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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #45 - Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

It's no wonder the critics have been heaping praise upon this book. It's the kind of book that once you start it, you devour, not wanting to put it down for even a favourite meal - unless you can eat and read at the same time. 

The first part of the book is told from the point of view of Nick Dunne in real time and his wife, Amy, in diary form. On the day of Nick and Amy's five year anniversary, Amy disappears. Nick obviously involves the police straight away but it becomes very clear to Nick that something is not right. He and Amy had been having problems and the treasure hunt she leads him on through notes she left behind (a treasure hunt is something Amy always does on their anniversary) leads him to believe that she wants to give the marriage another really good go. However, all sorts of things turn up that start to point to Nick as a suspect - he bumped up her life insurance, he ordered thousands of dollars worth of stuff on many different credit cards, he didn't even know his wife was pregnant - all of these things he is completely ignorant of and denies where applicable. And from Amy's diary, we learn about their relationship - it began oh, so very sweetly but quickly turned sour when they lost their New York jobs, their New York house and had to move to Missouri to look after Nick's cancer-stricken mother. 

Then, BAM. The twist. Now, I already knew the twist because I had seen the film and heard others discussing it before the film came out. But if I hadn't known, I think the second part of the book would have hit me like a demolition ball. Because Amy is live and so very smug due to her plan of framing Nick for her murder. Her reason? Nick was cheating on her for over a year with one of his students, and she could not let him get away with it. An earlier plan of hers was attempted murder, but that didn't go far enough in Amy's justice system. She wanted to see him burn before being sentenced to death. 

The plot of this book is obviously fantastic, if deeply disturbing and nasty - particularly the ending - but what got me was the writing. This didn't seem like an ordinary thriller, like a series of fast-paced events simply strung together into a whole. Character wasn't sacrificed for the sake of action. Flynn did an amazing job of making sure every character was three dimensional and necessary, even when they weren't on the page. Case in point are the secondary characters such as Nick's father - he is everything Nick doesn't want to be, and even though we don't see him in action very often he looms like a shadow. 

One of the most interesting revelations came when I read the Q&A at the end of the book with the author. She was asked if Amy has any good qualities, and she said yes - planning, patience, that kind of thing. They're just taken to extremes in Amy's case. It really got me thinking - it is tempting to think of Amy as a 2D villain, but she is so much more than that. She is exceptionally skilled, intelligent, patient, with many other gifts, but her nature and the way she was raised means she wields those gifts in an immensely cruel manner. 

Neither is Nick the classic, hapless, cheating husband. He admits than when he met Amy he was pretending to be something she wanted him to be - as was she. But the pretending could only last so long and when they began to reveal their true selves it was clear they were like poison to each other. But after all of this, they're stuck. The reader feels for Nick, is scared for him - we would only be terrified as he in his situation - and yet there is nothing to be done. As Go, Nick's sister, says - they are addicted to each other. They couldn't part even if they tried. 

The book leaves interesting questions for the reader. How much of ourselves is real, and how much is pretend? Do we know the ratio that we present to other people? Are we ever comfortable to be completely ourselves, even with a partner of loved one? Most of the time we would want to say yes, but if we are honest with ourselves, that wouldn't always be the case. 

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