Gone Girl – the crime book of the year?

(This review was published in the Sydney Morning Herald in July last year.  However, I’ve noted how many people have included it in their ‘best’ crime fiction lists of 2012 and thought I would include my review here after the book had just been published in Australia).

Gone Girl might be THE crime fiction book of the year. It’s already gone to Number One in the Amazon Top Twenty, suggesting someone else out there has noticed.  Be warned though, it may not be good for your health. I started it early morning in a hospital waiting room, eventually staggering across the finishing line one-eyed at 1 a.m. after a cataract op. This is book that resists anaesthesia.

Genrewise, Gone Girl is a hard to pin down:  part psycho-thriller, part literary tour de force, but is it really crime? There is a murder and there are two detectives, one rangy and thin ‘with a face that tapered severely into a dribble of a chin’; and the other ‘surprisingly ugly’ with ‘long lank hair the colour of a dust bunny’. But these characters hardly figure once they’ve been nailed in Flynn’s merciless prose. It’s what’s going on between the two main protagonists that commands the focus.  Labels soon become irrelevant.

Part One, ‘Boy Loses Girl’, opens with the handsome and affable Nick Dunne describing his wife Amy on ‘the day of’ her disappearance.  Blood on the kitchen floor and a deranged living room suggest Amy has been ‘snatched’ after a violent struggle from their McMansion.  It’s a soulless house they both hate on an estate of similar half-empty mausoleums post US mortgage meltdown in North Carthage, Missouri:  the kind of Mid Western town which doesn’t feature in the movies.  It’s where Nick grew up, where his twin sister and senile father still reside, and it’s hell on earth for the urbane Amy.

Nick wants us to like him, and he’s a likeable kind of guy with a canny way with words.   Not surprising since (like author Flynn herself), Nick was once a popular entertainment reviewer for a New York magazine ‘back in the days when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world’ he observes wryly post redundancy.

New York is where Nick met Amy whose diary entries recording their first encounter and blissful, wacky marriage interleave Nick’s account of her disappearance and the aftermath.  Amy wants us to like her too.  And again, what’s not to like. Amy is as beautiful as Nick is handsome, just as witty, and very rich, thanks to a series of books by her psychologist parents about a ‘fictional’ little girl called Amazing Amy who somehow always manages to do one better than the real Amy, if that were possible.

Beautiful Amy and handsome Nick would seem to be a perfectly matched pair. But this is where Flynn gets dark and dirty, since both are also consummate liars with dark secrets they are keeping from each other and the reader.   So when Amy disappears and Nick is suspected of her murder (it’s always the husband, right?), it’s game on. Prepare to be well and truly hornswoggled.

Flynn has suggested that one of her inspirations was Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf, a play by Edward Albee about power games in a toxic marriage performed on film by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who ripped into each other with such gusto it was hard to watch.  Gone Girl ups the ante in the ‘he said’ ‘she said’ stakes ‘til we really don’t know who or what to believe.

None of what has gone before will quite prepare you for the most outrageous conclusion to any crime or other fiction I have ever encountered.  This is genre-busting work by a writer who clearly knows the rules but doesn’t want to play by them. Bravo.

Gone Girl,  Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 399

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About Sue Turnbull

I am Professor of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wollongong where I manage the Bachelor of Communication degree. My research interests include the study of media audiences, television studies in general and crime in particular. I also review crime fiction for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age am a convenor of Sisters in Crime Australia - a crime writers and readership network.
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