Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (London: Phoenix, 2012). A wickedly entertaining portrait of a marriage gone horribly wrong 4.5 stars
Opening line: When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.
I’d heard from lots of people that this off-beat American crime novel was good, but no one warned me how ridiculously fun it would be. From start to finish, Gone Girl was an absolute, wicked joy, and had me applauding its bravura characterisation and plot.
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing in North Carthage, Missouri, leaving the police sniffing suspiciously around husband Nick. The events up leading up to and including that day are narrated by husband and wife in alternating chapters, and provide the reader with two highly distinctive perspectives. Soon we’re having to ask ourselves a series of bracing questions: What exactly is the nature of the crime that’s been committed? Who, if anyone, is the perpetrator? Who, if anyone, is the victim? Who is trustworthy? Who is not? And trying to work out the answers makes for a hugely enjoyable and addictive read.
In addition, the novel provides us with a wonderfully dark portrait of a marriage gone sour; a meditation on the way couples act out idealised identities, and a dissection of the stories they tell to fashion reality for their own ends. This is fundamentally a novel about gender and power, and it doesn’t pull any punches (some great fodder for discussion here). There’s also a wonderfully scathing critique of the media’s relentless pursuit of a story, regardless of the truth or judicial process.
All of this might have ended up a bleak, rather depressing read, were it not for the seam of wickedly dark humour that runs throughout the book. Think Danny DeVito’s 1989 The War of the Roses, crossed with Fay Weldon’s 1984 The Life and Loves of a She Devil, with a dash of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 The Talented Mr. Ripley thrown in. And as for plotting, no one’s done a mid-narrative twist better since Sarah Walters’ 2002 The Fingersmith…
20th Century Fox have acquired the property rights to the novel, with Reece Witherspoon set to produce, and David ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Fincher reportedly in talks to direct the film adaptation. It could be very, very good.
Mrs. Peabody awards Gone Girl a deliciously clever and satisfying 4.5 stars.
UPDATE 3 October 2014: The film of Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck is out now. Guardian film supremo Peter Bradshaw has given it 4 stars: read his review here.