The movie re-issue of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is a wickedly indulgent novel that one can only hope will be brought to the screen in all its trashy glory.
As a global phenomenon already, Gone Girl has already been the airport companion and book club fodder for millions around the world. Without approaching spoiler territory, the first half documents the decline of a marriage in forensic detail. Amy and Nick are the picture of wedded bliss: both gorgeous and revelling in their New York life style complete with a beautiful apartment and comfy media jobs. Then the economic crisis hits – leaving them unemployed and unable to remain in New York – a move to Arkansas, to be near Nick’s ailing mother, suspends both of them in muted misery in the Deep South. Flynn sets the scene superbly by moving back and forth between New York and suburbia and observing the small niggles that become black holes of bitterness as Amy spends her days in solitude and Nick runs a failing bar in his hometown.
When Amy goes missing on the morning of their wedding anniversary amidst broken glass and suspicious blood stains, the strains on their marriage seem the perfect motive for a murder in the suburbs. Without a body, Nick is put to a public witch hunt on rolling news across the country while following Amy’s trail of clues lovingly set out as part of their anniversary celebrations.
As the familiar narrative of a murder mystery starts to be diverted in the second act, things get really crazy. If Fatal Attraction was supposed to put a generation off extra-marital affairs, Gone Girl has poisoned the idea of marriage itself. With plot twists that writers of Desperate Housewives would hesitate to attempt, suspending your disbelief is essential to revelling in the pleasure of Gone Girl. The supporting characters – Nick’s sister Go and Amy’s parents are great onlookers to the craziness – elevate the novel from an intense drama on marriage to a wider clash of values, families and how we present ourselves to others.
Perhaps this is why Gone Girl has struck such a chord with a wide audience: Flynn has hit upon the impossible demands of playing the right role in a marriage. Amy’s best lines are on her way to being the ultimate cool partner: from sharing pizzas and staying thin to not being the ‘kind of girl’ that gets angry at a partner coming home late. Amy goes on a rampage against the construction of herself she’s created to be loved by a rather oblivious Nick. Beyond her own facade, Nick and Amy regularly discuss not being the types of marriages they see failing around them. The hyper self-awareness of their own behaviour forces them to try and play other parts. Amy’s fictional counterpart, her parents’ best-selling children’s series Amazing Amy, is echoed throughout the media portrayal of Amy that becomes yet another fictional version of her. Flynn uses the language of cultural cliché and stereotyping – Nick and Amy’s fallen status from their New York lifestyle is the root of all their troubles – and follows it to its painful conclusion.
Don’t expect Dostoyevsky, but Flynn does draw out some compelling home truths about modern marriage amidst dropping bombshells that keep the narrative hurtling through to the very end. A pleasure of a novel that grips tightly throughout.