Initial reaction:Long review coming. I think we have a lot to talk about on Gillian Flynn’s novel, it’s hard to know where to begin. But I will wholeheartedly admit despite my high rating, this book is not for everyone. It’s pretty darned hard to talk about, even try to elucidate what it does well despite several points of problematic termings, but I’m going to do my best.
Ye Gods, where do I begin with this book? Even days after finishing it, I’m still struggling to put words to my reactions to this very eventful novel.
I’m going to say upfront that this read is not for everyone, and that I’ve never come across a book like this where I’ve hated it as much as I liked it. It’s infuriating, I absolutely detested the characters, I definitely hated the rampant misogyny, and there’s so much problematic crap that happens between Nick and Amy that I wanted to throw the book at them far above the number of fingers I have on both hands.
However, I can say without a doubt in my mind that I thought this book was also brilliant. Mostly with a stellar example of how to use unreliable narration (I’m not going to spoil who it is, don’t worry – this review is spoiler free), dark cynical tones, well developed characterization and character voice, and the fact that despite having a dragging pace in its beginning half, it definitely picked up after the “twist”. (For the record, I called the twist early on, but that didn’t impact much of my impressions of the story.)
So, short version: Nick is a man in a progressively deteriorating marriage whose wife (with some fame behind her belt, courtesy of being the inspiration for a series her parents wrote, “Amazing Amy”) goes missing in incredibly sketchy circumstances. Nick and Amy trade perspective points in the beginning of the novel, with Nick being part of the present day, while Amy’s perspective is primarily through journal entries. Nick is a very jaded man and he makes no apologies for it even near the beginning of the book. You understand his upbringing, his family circumstances, his declining relationship with his wife – all of it play into his very inactive and odd demeanor. This fuels speculations as to what role Nick played in Amy’s disappearance, and if he could’ve played more of a part than even he *himself* realizes.
You may think this is a whodunit mystery, but that’s not what this book is at all. In fact, if you go into it thinking of it as a “whodunit” – you might be progressively disappointed. It’s more like a “what the heck happened and why did it happen” scenario. I kept asking myself that question throughout, and I do see “Gone Girl” as a proper thriller with dark, cynical tones that would be almost comical if it wasn’t so infuriating. This book knew what buttons to push in a smart way to appeal to and throw off perceptions, along with some awesome turns of sexual and logical power plays. At the same time, I don’t know if all of it, in the way it was presented, was necessary. Sometimes it came dangerously close to throwing me out of the book because it was so…steeped in that mentality. The misogyny – yikes. It was coming off in waves in this book. Between Nick’s father’s influence, Amy shaming other women, and Nick being pretty much the arse that he was with his relationships – I was ready to throw the book down and throw up my hands.
But on another hand, holy crap, the development of the characters in this book was very vivid. The voices lept off the page for raising the tension between these intricately flawed characters, not just for Amy and Nick, but for the whole darned cast of characters. You could see it, you could feel it, you could see the reasoning behind their actions and thoughts – for everybody in this book. Like I’ve said in many reviews before – I have no problem reading about problematic characters, but if you want to grab my attention and keep me invested, they need to be very well developed and have something to make me want to follow them. “Gone Girl” had the narrative pull and kept me moving along, even in slower moments. I don’t think a single character in this book was intended to be likable, and in the scheme of a romance – heck no. This is a story where relationships are broken more often than they’re formed and it’s whatever they can hold over the head of another character in order to get ahead. That’s shown not only in Amy and Nick’s relationship, but between other characters as well, and Gillian Flynn does this with the knowledge that – yeah – you know this is not going to end well, but how and who has the upper hand in it all.
There are a few novels I’ve read that have had a similar set up – I almost want to say in drama, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head, as I read them a long time ago – probably back when I was in undergrad uni. (It’s killing me that I can’t mention them in this review, but so it goes.) And it’s weird that I think of the FX series “Sons of Anarchy” as I’m typing this because since that series just ended and had convoluted, problematic relationships and flawed characters from point one – that’s the only comparison that comes to mind right at this moment for describing the experience this had for me. (Maybe also Hulu’s “The Booth At the End”, but that was a more underscaled series on the scale of screwed up characters and relationships, with a supernatural leaning.) On one hand, you know the characters don’t really have redeemable qualities, but you still follow them because there’s some stake that keeps pulling you along and you keep asking “What’s the end result here?” The characters have motivation behind the things that they do, which complicate their other relationships, and coupled with their inherent flaws drive them to do things that make you think “What the heck are you doing?!!! Don’t you realize that just made things worse for wear for you and everyone you care about?”
And then the scenario plays out and just when you think things can’t get worse, they get worse. But again, for it to work, it’s gotta be able to carry it. I think “Gone Girl” carried the scenario well for what it chose to show and play out through the eyes of its characters, as insufferable as they were. I think it could’ve had the same impact without necessarily driving so hard on the cynicism and misogyny that I saw in this, but I’ll say that it still immersed me despite its problematic framework. The question will be, I think in the consideration of the novel as a whole – is will it be enough to hook you for the flaws it has? The characters are flawed, sure, but the set up has its flaws as well for how it sets the stage in showing the disappearance and manipulating the strings of the puppets prancing in this pushback-pullback play. Question is: who’s pulling who?
I’d honestly recommend seeing what it has to offer – and let you be the judge.
Overall score: 4/5 stars