Love gone dark
Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl, Crown, 2012. 432 pp. €11.50.
Despite the blurb describing this book as a psychological thriller, the actual summary of the plotline made me start reading it fully expecting an easy-going, summer chick-lit. Just the thing to while away some lazy hours at the beach, I thought.
The first few chapters did nothing to make me think that I was wrong with this initial assessment.
The plot is very ‘been there, read that’ – girl meets boy; they fall in love and marry; honeymoon period ends; great shock when boy returns home to find that girl has disappeared – on the day of their wedding anniversary, to add insult to injury. What happened? Is she dead? Is she with a lover?
With this kind of basic plot, there are only two ways the story can evolve. The first and obvious road is the ‘light thriller’ one, with the husband turning amateur detective for the sake of love or else actually doing the dirty deed himself.
Linwood Barclay’s Never Look Away, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under The Sun, Dean Koontz’s The Husband... many others share this same basic plot, with varying degrees of success.
The other, maybe less obvious road is that the book is transformed into a sugary, nostalgic account of husbandly love, a plot device that usually points towards a less sinister solution and a more-or-less happy couple’s reunion.
I was ready to bet my last 50 cents that Gone Girl would take the latter route. This, despite an extremely creepy opening paragraph from Nick, the bereft (or is he?) husband:
“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head... you could imagine the skull quite easily.”
However, right after this attention-worthy introduction the style immediately slipped into a very easy-going account of the birth of a love story.
Nick and Amy are the quintessential golden couple and their New York-based relationship is the stuff readers dream of; it’s fun, unpredictable, full of contemporary references and enough quirks to make both characters appear cute rather than crazy.
The book is written in the first person, with the husband and wife alternating chapters.
Even if the novel were to continue in the vein of light-hearted, ‘where did we go wrong’ love story, I would still have been hooked. Flynn has a way of creating incredibly well-rounded characters, of making the reader love and then dislike the protagonists in quick succession – you know, much as you would a real person.
The prose is colloquial and stemmed in the here and now, and the result reads as though you’re eavesdropping on a friend’s most intimate thoughts. Which, of course, makes it all extremely intriguing.
However, Flynn’s genius lies in the way she subtly and almost imperceptibly shifts from a tale of thwarted love to full-on psycho mode. By the time you realise what is really happening, chances are that you will be incredulous.
My first instinct was to backtrack a couple of chapters, looking feverishly for clues and wondering how ‘I didn’t see that one coming’.
My next feeling was one of outrage; I felt totally betrayed and deceived by the characters. I felt like my best friends had suddenly become a stranger.
When the characters in a book manage to get you so teed off, it can only mean one thing – that it’s a damned good read.
My one small gripe is that I didn’t find the ending 100 per cent satisfactory or believable.
Having said that, it is also difficult to imagine a different ending that sits well with the particular personalities of the protagonists.
This is the first time I read any of Flynn’s books. I will certainly be looking up her two previous works, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.
An author’s best works tend to be the best; by that logic, these two will be definite winners.