“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever?” asks Amy Elliott Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s chilling novel Gone Girl. Flynn’s best-selling – albeit contentious – third novel depicts a love story of sorts; a love story where things have gone terribly wrong, and where the reader is caught between Amy and her husband Nick’s alternating narratives, witnessing as the lines of villain and victim become increasingly blurred.
The essential plot is that on the day of their five-year wedding anniversary, Amy disappears; and while there are a myriad of different clues as to how or why she may have disappeared, there are no easy answers to be found within the first-person narratives by Nick and Amy. The first part of the book (“Boy loses Girl”) is absolutely compelling as it oozes suspense and mystery, and left me unable to put the book down. Amy and Nick are masterfully portrayed by the author as she slowly unfolds their characteristics, all along throwing in a few “red herrings” designed to unsettle any certainties in the minds of the readers as they try to ascertain who Nick and Amy really are.
Nick and Amy deliver a raw insight into what – on the surface – seems to be a traditional “boy-meets-girl, they get married and settle down in the suburbs” kind of story. However, as the narrative unfolds, the reader soon realises the many, often startlingly truthful, pitfalls inherent in such conceptions of romantic love. As the characters dissect themselves and their relationship, questions about intimacy and self-identity really resonated and stayed with me – not in an entirely comfortable way.
During the second part of the book (“Boy meets Girl”) the plot takes some huge twists and turns, and the question changes from “whodunit?” to “who is going to come out of this alive?” Everything becomes unstable from here on, challenging readers to suspend their beliefs in more ways than one. Without giving anything away, it suffices to say that my initial thoughts and feelings about the characters and plot were turned upside down. Unfortunately, at this point the narrative became markedly less compelling to me, and while I certainly kept reading to find out if there was some kind of resolution, or “happy ending” to this very complex plot, there were a lot more challenges here to becoming immersed in the storyline and characterisations.
Despite this, the author displays some remarkable psychological insight into her characters, resulting in hard-line questioning of intimacy, personal insecurity, the secrets we keep, and whether it is possible to ever really know the person you are with. Flynn is also very skilled at scrutinising popular culture, the role of the media, and assumptions of what constitutes “normal” behaviour – in Gone Girl the characters cover the whole spectrum of behaviour, from what could be considered “normal” right up to the stereotypical “sociopath”.
Flynn has stated that “What’s scary is that psychological mind-place: not the serial killer roaming around outside, but that sense of not quite being comfortable in your own skin.” If her aim for Gone Girl was to portray this sense of psychological unease, then she has most definitely succeeded in this. As the novel has just been made into a movie – starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and due to be released in October 2014 – one hopes that the psychological subtleties, which are the most engaging aspect of the novel, survive the translation onto the big screen.
REVIEWER: Tanya Allport
TITLE: Gone Girl
AUTHOR(S): Gillian Flynn