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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

GONE GIRL: A REVIEW, by Eve Silberman

cover of Gillian Flynn's book Gone Girl

The cardinal rule of book reviewing is, Don't spoil the plot. Nowhere is that maxim more important than when the work in question is a mystery or "psychological thriller," like Gillian Flynn's best-selling Gone Girl. But Flynn has made it tough for critics. Her basic plot line--the disappearance of the wife on the couple's fifth anniversary--can be shared but not much more. After Amy Dunne disappears, her husband, Nick, comes under suspicion. He is evasive about his whereabouts at the time, signs of an intruder appear forced, and, most important, the marriage is troubled. Both writers, the couple have lost their New York jobs and moved, Amy unhappily, to Nick's home town in Missouri. "I simply assumed," Nick reflects in the opening chapter, "that I would bundle up my New York wife with her New York interests, leave the frantic, thrilling futureland of Manhattan behind .. and all would be fine."The story is told in alternating sections; Nick speaks, then Amy, partly through a diary. One of the story's most dramatic plot twists occurs in the middle, lurching the book in a new direction. If you've been reading closely, you might anticipate where things are heading. I felt smug when my hunch was right; however, Flynn humbled me by producing an ending I never could have dreamed.

Gone Girl has made Flynn a Golden Girl of the literary scene: it's appeared on several critics' favorite book-of-the-year lists, and sold two million copies to date. A former Entertainment Weekly writer, Flynn moves the story quickly, with lots of snarky dialogue. This isn't a book about nice people (the most sympathetic character isNick's twin sister, who's determined to stick by him even as the police close in on him as a murder suspect). But while you don't warm to either Nick or Amy, I suspect the toxicity in their marriage is a big reason for Gone Girl's success. Flynn is not strong on character development but she can convincingly convey the knot of rage in an unhappy marriage that can implode in unexpected ways. Better to read about it than live it--and who knows, maybe some married couples will close Gone Girl with a feeling that they're not doing so bad after all. We can hope.


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