Book Review: Gone Girl (2012)
by Alan F. Zundel
Great literature it ain’t, but Gillian Flynn sure has a way with words.
“Gone Girl” was a New York Times best-seller, but you may be more familiar with the 2014 movie starring Ben Affleck. It’s about a man who is suspected of murder when his wife disappears under mysterious circumstances.
I saw the movie last year and wasn’t that impressed by it. It seemed like three different movies spliced together. The first act was an intriguing mystery, very well done. The second act was a step down in dramatic interest, but still a fairly good suspense story of a fish-out-of-water whose plans go awry. The final act was an over-the-top horror story.
Although the book has the same plot as the movie (Flynn was also the screenwriter) and, yes, it was deliberately divided into three parts, it held together much better. The principal reason is that Flynn’s keen use of language rang through every page, giving it more unity.
“She believes she was left to fend for herself throughout childhood, a pitiful creature of random hand-me-downs and forgotten permission slips, tightened budgets and general regret.”
“Carthage had a bigger drug epidemic than I ever knew: The cops had been here just yesterday, and already the druggies had resettled, like determined flies.”
“But Desi takes to thank-yous like a cat being brushed; his back almost arches with the pleasure.”
“Gone Girl” is a simply lot of fun to read, if you like this kind of sordid tale. (And I know you do!) Its 400-plus pages flew by as I read, the plot hurtling along through various delightful twists and turns.
Of course, having seen the movie, the plot of the book held no surprises for me. (I admit I was hit by Flynn’s curveballs when watching the movie.) Also, I couldn’t get Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike out of my mind when imagining the characters. Not that that was all bad, as they fit the parts.
The principal character, Nick Dunne, is a handsome guy who bluffs his way through his insecurities. (Now I ask you, doesn’t that sound like Ben?) You come to know his missing wife Amy and their different takes on their marriage through flashbacks from her diary.
The character of Nick is well-developed and believable, but Amy, while given sharp definition, comes off as more of an author’s conceit to drive the plot. I found it hard to accept her as a real person. The other characters similarly either have depth (e.g., Nick’s sister Margo) or are types (e.g. Nick’s flashy lawyer).
Flynn’s theme is the dark side of love and marriage, and she does mine the ugly ways intimacy can bring out the worst of people, the things lurking behind our masks. It gets a lot uglier here than I’ve ever experienced, thank God, so the book is, as I said, a sordid tale.
I don’t want to exaggerate that aspect too much, though, as a few of the characters are sympathetic, even with their all-too-human flaws. But don’t expect a feel-good glow when you are finished reading it.
Aside from the cheap thrills found by peeking into the inhumanity of humans, the pleasure of the book is more to be found in the author’s style and the constantly swerving plot than in any deep insights into the human condition that it provides. And those were good enough to raise this one a cut above your average guilty pleasure.
If you haven’t seen the movie nor read the book, I recommend starting with the book. It’s a good read and I look forward to reading more from Flynn.