It’s not often that the old cliché “I stayed up all night reading this!” is actually true, at least in my case. Don’t get me wrong here: there are many, many books that I’ve loved and enjoyed, but relatively few that have kept me reading compulsively, desperate to know what happened next. (And that’s no criticism, either: some books are slow-burners, written to be savoured, and none the worse for it.)
In the case of Gone Girl, though, that cliché was almost true. I didn’t quite stay up all night turning the pages, but I got through it in a few days, and frequently sat up long past my usual bedtime reading it, caught up in the story, desperate to know where it would take me next. It was a bit like being driven at high speed around a race track with myriad twists and turns and an intriguing, if rapidly-changing, view: scary, breakneck, compelling, and – above all – fun. In an evil kind of way.
The story is told by two narrators, husband and wife Nick and Amy, a once-achingly cool New York couple who, following the credit crunch, are pretty much forced to downsize and move to Missouri. Following a précis like that, you might think that Gone Girl is another tale of small town boredom and dissatisfaction – and in some ways it is. But – but – this is not, ultimately, a Richard Yates-esque dissection of the emptiness of suburban life, but a fast-paced thriller that keeps on turning on you, goading you, biting you, surprising you. Just when you think you’ve worked it all out, Flynn springs another surprise on you, and then another, and another. You wonder who these people really are, what on earth is going on.
And that’s appropriate, because one of the themes of Gone Girl is the ultimate “unknowability” of another person. We yearn to find that one person who really gets us, who knows and understands us as well as we ourselves do; many a marriage and relationship is built on that fragile hope. Much of the ugly complexity of Nick and Amy’s relationship is due to the fact that, while on some level they really do understand each other, on another level they don’t know each other at all. They play cruel and ugly games, they keep secrets, they lay traps for each other – and yes, they ensnare each other in a variety of evil ways, though I can’t really say very much about that without entering spoiler territory.
I love Flynn’s writing style: it’s cool, ironic, snarky. I love the way she takes the common, trivial problems affecting many a marriage – money problems, in-laws, disagreements over where to live and whether or not to have kids – and makes them insidious, toxic. I love the fact that she has the courage to make her characters thoroughly unlikeable, and appreciate the way she manages to make us like them anyway, or at least grudgingly admire them. I love the way the ending is truly horrific – and not in the way you think it’s going to be, no, not at all. If you’re married, or just involved, it will make you shiver, partly with recognition (even though your own marriage is unlikely to be quite as insanely bad as this one). If you’re unmarried, you’ll probably decide you want to stay that way.
With apologies to Gillian Flynn, I leave you with a little quiz, à la Amy…
You’ve just read a book that you loved so much that you really, really wish that you had written it. Do you:
a. Dissolve into gushing fangirl mode and rave about said book every opportunity you get;
b. Feel both depressed and uplifted when you consider just what literature is capable of;
c. Quiver with jealous self-pity;
d. All of the above?
Yes, believe the hype. It really is that good.