It has been a long time since I read a book in which there is such a splendid array of thoroughly unsympathetic characters. It is hard to find one with whom you would share a coffee and a chat. Yet Gillian Flynn’s latest book Gone Girl, is a compulsive read. Part psychological thriller, part who-dunnit, it is a racy mix of mystery and knowledge of the terrible event you just know is going to happenbut can’t be avoided.
Amy and Nick are a fairly typical young couple both slightly surprised they have found each other but happy in their idyllic New York brownstone. It is present from her parents paid for with the proceeds of a wildly successful children’s book Amazing Amy, where the protagonist Amy is always right.
Then Nick loses his job and Amy’s parents, once doting benefactors stumble into financial woe and the house is sold. Suddenly Nick and Amy are back on his home turf in a rented house that “screams nouveau riche” in small-town Missouri right alongside the Mississippi. Borrowing from the last of Amy’s savings, Nick opens a slightly seedy bar with his sister Go (perhaps the only really likeable person in the book). They muddle along. Then one day Amy disappears.
The police investigate, Amy’s parents and the locals rally around. Search teams are organised. A community Where’s Amy drop-in centre is set up. But then the fingers start pointing at Nick. Maybe these hick town cops aren’t so gullible after all. Maybe Nick isn’t quite what he seems.
Deftly Flynn peels back the layers of Amy and Nick’s life in parallel narratives. Hers initially revealed through the detailed girly-gushing entries in her diary. His through the unfolding drama of the police search and his growing realisation that his life is spiralling out of his control.
Amy slowly emerges as the consummate game player with sinister method and terrifyingly simple motive. Amazing Amy indeed. But Nick is not quite the innocent hubby he would have everyone believe. He has his secrets, real and fabricated. As the noose seems to be closing around Nick he goes on the offensive. But even when it seems he is back in control the world tilts again.
Gone Girl depicts a depressingly accurate picture of society’s reaction to a community drama, fuelled by scandal-sucking talk shows where everyone is happy to reveal all for their moment in the spotlight, however tarnished. In seconds, as the plot swerves wildly with each flick of a page, Nick goes from “that’s poor Nick Dunne whose wife is missing” to “the husband always does it” to “maybe we misjudged him” to “he was always a strange one at school” to the triumphant “I always knew he did it, the bastard”.
There has been criticism that because the main characters in Gone Girl are so flawed it is hard to actually care what happens to them. Bad stuff should happen to bad people. I didn’t find that a problem. Bad can be really good too.
Gone Girl is a classic can’t-put-it-down read and considering it’s not exactly a slim tome that is a tribute to Flynn’s artful writing and plotting. The fact that the final twist didn’t quite work for me (smacked a little too much of setting things up for a sequel) wasn’t important. Flynn had already succeeded. If there is a sequel, I will buy it.