Have you ever had that experience where you close a book and just let out a huge sigh, like you’ve been holding your breath since you turned the first page? Yeah, this is one of those. I devoured this novel, tearing through the whole five hundred plus (paperback) pages over the span of about thirty hours. I actually gasped out loud on multiple occasions, and more than once gnawed my fingers in disbelieve. It’s a book that keeps the tension going to the last line, and throws half-a-dozen huge twists at you as you go. I can’t promise not to spoil anything, but I’ll do my best. If you don’t want to take any chances, just know that I recommend it and stop reading here.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a masterpiece of suspense, pairing deft characterization with tight and thrilling storytelling. It tells the story of Nick and Amy, a New York couple transplanted to Missouri. One day, Amy disappears. Suspicion falls upon Nick, who acts strangely out of character for a grieving husband. As the story unfolds, we take a hard look back on Amy and Nicks unraveling marriage, and then… well, let’s just say that things get interesting.
If I had to make a comparison, I’d say that Dennis Lahane’s Mystic River is probably the closest touchstone. Flynn shares Lahane’s knack for using thrilling genre (crime) fiction as a vehicle for deep and compelling character portraits. She also shares his compelling but unspectacular prose style (I think workmanlike would be the word for it, and I don’t mean that as a knock on either of them).
Nick and Amy really come to life, their marital discord feels wholly real, to the point that it was knotting up my stomach reading about their distance and lack of communication and spitefulness. If this wasn’t such an engaging read, it would be unbearable. I loved it.
Unfortunately, Flynn kind of flubs the second half of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it gets bad at any point. But there’s a big twist right near the halfway point of the novel which sucks out a huge amount of tension, and really undermines the characterization of the first half. We learn (spoilers!) that the Amy we’ve known so far is only an invention, and that the real Amy is a devious sociopath bent on revenge and destruction. It’s an intense twist, and a really exciting one to read, but it’s kind of a let down. Flynn fills the back half of the novel with a lot of interesting stuff, and the thriller part of the book never lets up. The second half was as exciting if not more so than the first. But it doesn’t feel as real. The fake Amy, ironically, felt a great deal more true than the real one. The pendulum swings too far towards Nick, and he becomes the hero of the story, facing off against her villain. The first half didn’t have a hero or a villain. It only had people. That shift takes this book down a peg, from “genuine masterpiece” to “superb thriller.” There’s nothing wrong with a superb thriller, but this could have been so much more.
Anyway, that’s the bad stuff. The good stuff is everything else. The characters, the pacing, the razor-sharp social observations, the gender dynamics, the clean prose style, the strong sense of voice from both Nick and Amy, the way Flynn knows exactly how to play the reader to get extreme reactions every time she wants to pull the rug out from under you.
It’s a great time, and I highly recommend it.