gone girl book review

gone girl book review

Gone Girl Book Review

1. Introduction

Gone Girl is described on more than one list as a psychological thriller, and while it certainly is that, it’s also a great deal more. To describe it as such would be to do it a great disservice. It’s a beautifully intricate character study, a finely woven mystery with devastatingly clever plot twists, and despite its bleak undertones, it’s often times laugh-out-loud funny. I will go so far as to say that this is a work of sheer genius; it’s everything I could ever ask for in a work of fiction and more. It’s going straight onto my list of all-time favorites, and it has very easily secured a place as the best book I’ve read this year. (An observation I’ve made all the more profound by the fact that I finished it at 4:30 in the morning, and I’m still thinking about it now.) Also, I can’t help but mention that it’s far and away the very best portrayal of the toxic nature of a soured relationship that I have ever read. The main theme is Nick’s obsession with the question of whether or not he is the cause for his wife’s misery, and the answer remains tantalizingly out of reach. He is immensely likeable, but despicably weak; his moments of gallantry are completely canceled out by his cowardice and his readiness to be controlled. Amy is by far the stronger half of a pairing based on her manipulation and domineering nature, endearing in her dishonesty and her readiness to vilify Nick in the cause of preserving her own self-image. Theirs is a relationship that no reader will envy, but you’ll be hard-pressed to look away from.

2. Plot Summary

Amy’s diary entries show a couple in serious decline. Being laid off from his job at a men’s magazine due to mass outsourcing, Nick relocates his wife to his hometown of Missou. It is at this point, halfway through the book, where the truth regarding Amy’s disappearance is revealed to the reader; it is not as grim as initially assumed. The plot escalates with a fighter’s chance for survival. Amy is not dead, and she orchestrated an elaborate plan to disgrace her husband for his dishonest and unloving ways, and possibly subject him to the death penalty for a crime he had not committed. The reader now sees Amy for what she really is, a sociopath and obviously mentally suffering who is not quite right in the head. This is inferred from the plan she had concocted as a means to uphold her own twisted sense of justice and to maintain the “happy” lifestyle that she had lost when her and Nick had left New York. A later discovery by Nick confirms that Amy is pregnant with his child, making him a reluctant but decided custodian of the offspring. The book sets for an end in which the couple is in a standoff that suggests neither of them really knows the other person.

Initially, the plot is devoted to generating a sense of doubt in the reader’s mind. Did Nick murder his wife? As evidence mounts and the immense possession of incriminating knowledge about his wife in his point of view becomes apparent, it is hard to side with Nick. He becomes a very unsympathetic character; his actions and thoughts suggest he is very callous and curious with what he considers “flirting with possibilities” with the local women who he is pursuing (specifically Andie) as opposed to a man who is devastated by the disappearance of his wife.

A sympathetic, handsome, unemployable husband, Nick Dunne, and his wife, Amy, the inspiration for her parents’ children’s book series, are five years into their marriage. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. The story is told from two perspectives: it alternates chapter-by-chapter between Nick (in the present), and Amy’s diary entries leading up to the day of her disappearance. This is significant because it showcases the contrasting personalities of the characters – the reader is getting the same story but from two very distinct and contradictory viewpoints. Amy’s is told in real time up to her abduction, and her impressions of her husband up to the day of her disappearance.

3. Character Analysis

From the first moments of Gone Girl, when you see Nick Dunne stroking his wife Amy’s head and whispering endearments to himself, it’s clear this is a story about love. Amy and Nick’s love is a vital organ, and the thought of its failure is more frightening than death. How they come to know each other, how they drift apart, how they combat the forces trying to destroy their marriage: those are the complexities the novel explores. Amy’s lovingly crafted treasure hunt of clues lets Nick, and the reader, into the woman he thought he knew. She is much more complex than he initially decided, and the process of Nick’s recognizing this will be a major part of what we call “plot”. Amy’s challenge to Nick to do better, to take himself up a level and meet her on equal footing, is the challenge any partner gives, or ought to give, the other. Amy just fashions it into an extremely insidious psychological mind game. Each and every character in this novel is, at the most basic level, an exploration of an archetype. Much scorn has been poured on Gone Girl for this, they are cardboard cutouts. They are, and they are supposed to be. Gone Girl is an allegorical, fairy-tale novel. Fitzgerald says in Gatsby, the best sort of novel is one with simple and yet beautiful writing. Symbols of great depth. A character’s persona can be rich, and yet still be an exploration of a basic concept. Think of it like a crossword, the novelties in the clues and their variety, not the black and white grid they fill. The characters are the crossword grid, and their actions, thoughts, and feelings become the solution. At their best and at their most human. Amy is an extremely complex character woven, but she is also an exploration of the ‘femme fatale’ and the ‘scheming witch’. Nick is a fairly simple character, and yet it’s easy to put yourself in his shoes. His thoughts are your thoughts, his fears your fears. His feelings and actions are an exploration of what it is like to be the modern man. The mixed answers and Monday morning quarterbacks in the reaction to Nick’s character show that he is a success in creating an engaging, identifiable, and yet meaningful persona. This is also Nick Harris’s downfall, he is too likable and does not challenge himself to learn anything from the mistakes he makes in his relationship with Amy, unlike Amy’s challenges through the treasure hunt. She says to a shocked and defiant Nick, ‘I don’t want a nice guy, I want a good guy.’

4. Themes and Symbolism

The characters in the novel are arguably the most interesting aspects in the novel. Amy and Nick are both the protagonists and the antagonists. In other words, they are both the good guy and the bad guy, which creates a very intricate story. Nick is very interesting because his innocence or guilt in his wife’s disappearance is constantly changing. One moment, the reader is sure that he is the cause of Amy’s death, but then his next action convinces the reader that she is still alive. Although the story is set up where he will be the typical “hero” of the story, the reader can never be sure that it is the truth. Amy is an interesting character as well. As the victim of a crime, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy towards her, but many of the things she does in the story are morally incorrect. For example, framing someone for your death, as well as taking all of their money, is a very selfish and bad thing. This is when the definitions of “protagonist” and “antagonist” become a bit skewed. Now, who is the hero, and who is the villain? Amy and Nick both have a light and dark side, and the reader will constantly change feelings towards each character. The overarching theme and message of Gone Girl is the effects of a bad marriage. The story will sometimes exaggerate them, but it raises many questions on married life and human nature. How well do we really know the person we marry? What would you do to make a bad situation better? What are you willing to put up with for the long haul? What can cause divorce? These are all issues that are raised through Nick and Amy and the crazy things they do. The story offers parallel accounts from both Nick and Amy on the progression of their marriage. Another more obvious theme in the story is with regards to media and society. The effect they have on the outcome of certain events can be quite powerful and the story is a testament to that. Amy’s framing of Nick and the games she puts together are all an effort to have an effect on the ultimate outcome of the situation. It is her way of controlling public opinion to either be in favor or against Nick. This effect culminates when Nick reads Amy’s post-prologue entry and vomits, realizing that the Amy he loved is long gone. There are several symbols in the story, but one of the more prevalent ones is Amy herself being a symbol for the “cool girl”. The cool girl is described as a low maintenance, guy’s girl ideal, who doesn’t nag her boyfriend and is always up for anything. Amy was once a “cool girl” but as time changes people, she was no longer that which partly led to the downfall of her and Nick’s marriage. Amy ends up comparing herself to the cool girl upon realizing that she was “gone” and only being a shell of the person she was. This realization is followed by the decision to fake her death and fallen even deeper into the abyss to the point of impaling herself to make it look more real. This is significant action taken because Amy knows that if she is to get to a better place, she must fully destroy the present one. Overall, the very structure of the story itself is a complex “he said, she said” mystery that takes on many forms. In regards to the title, the genius behind the plan was that each step of either Nick or Amy was to try and “gone girl” the other. Amy’s plan is more clear here, and the framing and treasure hunts are all to paint Nick into going to prison while she remains the poor victim of a kidnapping that was swept under the rug. Nick’s “gone girl” is him trying to answer questions on Amy’s whereabouts and prove that he didn’t murder her, even though the situation looks grim for him. This will all lead up to the final meeting at the end to whether Amy can shed tears to weasel her way out of the situation in which only she knows the truth.

5. Conclusion

The final plot twist and the choice to leave the two characters unresolved is certainly intentional. It is suggested in a conversation with Tanner Bolt that Nick plotted to get away with his wife’s murder, but there is no solid evidence and Nick is the only person to truly know whether he is lying to Bolt or not. While in contrast, Amy is potentially more sociopathic than Nick could even comprehend, and through the last installment of the novel, it is clearly evident that Amy was going to kill Desi and return to the act of playing a victim in a mystery that she may or may not solve. The old copies of Huck Finn are a symbolic gesture for both characters and the decision to each be on different sides of America reinforces the idea of new identity, but the novel ends with the possibility that each character could revert back to their former selves. This uncertainty and open possibility plays back to the issues of identity that are the real substance of the novel and is why “Gone Girl” is an incredibly engaging book to read.

“Gone Girl” deals with the inner world of the two main characters. On the surface, it might appear that the main ideas in this novel circle around marriage and there are certainly clues to how marriage is perceived and how a relationship can be shown through it, but really the reader is following the story of two people through the psychological dissections of themselves. The mystery plot is only a construct to show how each character works through their issues of identity and morality. The novel is female-driven, and its style and plot are certainly marketed towards females, but on deeper levels, it is a men’s book. Many female readers might find it offensive and misogynistic as every female character in the novel is neurotic, manipulative, and somewhat evil. This might not be the nicest thing for a husband to admit to himself, but often times the inner thoughts of the male population of their wives and girlfriends are identical to Nick Dunne’s thoughts. Gillian Flynn herself calls the novel a ‘feminist tome’ because it shows a global disregard for women and the biggest threat of all for every woman; that she will become someone that she is not in order to please others. Either way, it brings to the surface the issues of inner identity for men and women, often something that is difficult to articulate and realize. This is also a social commentary for the people of the western world today. Often the main case studies of identity crises and internal thought are drawn from generations of the past and the characters are put into positions that are not identifiable for a large audience.

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