Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is one of those ‘must read’ books which you might have spotted people avidly devouring on the tube or in a café and with good reason. I generally avoid these like the plague because I am stubborn and contrary and don't like reading what everyone else is, but it was the chosen title for my book club so I had to. And boy am I glad I was booted unceremoniously out of my comfort zone because it was a fantastic read.
The story follows Amy and Nick, a married couple who recount the tale of Amy’s mysterious disappearance in the first person in alternating chapters. We get extracts from Amy’s diary – starting with the giddy early days of their relationship and running through to the point when they both lose their jobs in New York (the action takes place against the background of the American economic crisis) and have to move back to Nick’s hometown.
Nick buys a bar with his twin sister while Amy feels increasingly frustrated with the way their lives have turned out. Then she vanishes. Amy's diary entries are alternated with chapters from Nick's point of view, starting from the day of Amy's disappearance.
As well as being a spine-tingling thriller with a plot that coolly twists and turns, Gone Girl is a chillingly astute dissection of one relationship which, while spectacularly dysfunctional in some ways (it is a thriller after all), will probably resonate with most people. If you set all the scary thriller stuff to one side, it is at its heart a tale about how frighteningly easily a relationship can go stale and then unravel when both parties feel like they've got a 'bad deal'.
Gone Girl forces the reader to confront some uncomfortable ideas, like; when exactly do you let your guard down with the person you love and reveal the ‘real’ you – as opposed to the idealized version that you presented when you first met? And what happens if they do the same and the ‘real’ them isn’t what you expected, or wanted?
Do some people just have bad chemistry – bringing out the worst in each other – while with another, different partner, the decent aspects of their character might be enhanced (neither is more valid, it’s just the combination of two personalities that produces a different outcome in each case.) These are thought-provoking ideas that you don't really expect to encounter in a thriller.
In a funny way, Gone Girl reminded me a bit of Lena Dunham's Girls. I found in both the same sense of bewildered entitlement - like, what went wrong? Why aren't we rich and famous and successful like we were meant to be? There's a search for authenticity, for the kind of fulfilment that previous generations seemed to have enjoyed (although this is probably romanticising the past). It's what Louise Chunn was talking about in her piece on not setting the bar too high. It's a pretty bleak perspective, but in the hands of a writer like Flynn it can be funny as well as horribly depressing (thank goodness for the LOLs!)
Here's an example from Nick:
"I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial... I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore."
and an equally telling one from Amy:
"Dorothy has one of those '70s kitten-in-a-tree posters - Hang In There! She posts her poster will all sincerity. I like to picture her running into some self-impressed Williamsburg bitch, all Bettie Page bangs and pointy glasses, who owns the same poster ironically. I'd like to listen to them try to negotiate each other. Ironic people always dissolve when confronted with earnestness, it's their Kryptonite."
But anyway, really, if you haven't already, you should read it.
Now please tell me what to read next and I WILL DO IT! Doesn't matter if it's Chekhov or Jackie Collins, I'm game. I want to know the books that have got under your skin, into your blood that just won't leave you alone...