Gone Girl (novel)
|Audio read by||Julia Whelan |
|Publisher||Crown Publishing Group|
|Pages||432 (first edition)|
Gone Girl is a thriller novel in the mystery and crime genres, by the American writer Gillian Flynn. It was published by Crown Publishing Group in June 2012. The novel became quite popular and soon made the New York Times Best Seller list. The sense of suspense in the novel comes from whether or not Nick Dunne is involved in the disappearance of his wife Amy.
In several interviews, Flynn has said that she was inspired to write the novel by the disappearance of Californian Laci Peterson in late 2002. Portraying her principal characters as out-of-work writers, she made use of her own experience being laid off from her job as a writer for Entertainment Weekly.
A film adaptation was released on October 3, 2014, directed by David Fincher, but written by Flynn herself, with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike starring in lead roles. The film was met with both commercial success and widespread critical acclaim.
The first part of the novel centers on Nick Dunne and his wife Amy's marriage. Its point of view alternates between that of Nick and Amy, whose perspectives on their marriage are very different. For example, Nick describes the couple's relationship in the present day, while Amy's diary entries depict their relationship in the past. Amy's diary portrays Nick as an aggressive, moody, idle, and threatening husband, while Nick describes Amy as someone who is needlessly difficult, anti-social, stubborn, and an irrational perfectionist.
When Nick and Amy both lose their jobs in New York City, they relocate to Nick's hometown in North Carthage, Missouri, to help take care of Nick's sick mother. This causes their marriage to take a turn: Amy loved their life in New York, hates living in the Midwest, and soon begins to resent Nick for making her move to his hometown.
On their wedding anniversary, Amy disappears without a trace, and Nick eventually becomes a suspect in her disappearance. Among other reasons, his lack of emotion about Amy's disappearance and the discovery that Amy was pregnant when she went missing lead both the police and the public to believe that Nick may have murdered his wife.
In the second half of the book, the reader learns that the main characters are unreliable narrators and that the reader is not being given all of the information. Nick is revealed to have been cheating on his wife, and Amy is revealed to be alive and in hiding and trying to frame Nick for her "death" as revenge for his perceived wrongs against her. Her pregnancy and her diary entries are revealed to be fake; Amy fabricated them in order to incriminate Nick further. However, her plan is foiled when she is robbed at the motel she is hiding in. Desperate, she seeks help from her ex-boyfriend Desi Collings, who agrees to hide her in his lake house but soon becomes possessive, causing Amy to feel trapped.
Meanwhile, Nick has discovered that Amy is framing him for her murder based on the items she bought using credit cards in his name and hid in his sister Margo's woodshed, along with her anniversary gift of Punch and Judy puppets, one of which is missing a handle. However, since the clues she left for him on their anniversary treasure hunt are so vague, and based on their inside jokes that no one else would get, he has no way of proving it.
Together, he and his lawyer work to change the public's perception of Nick. He is granted an interview with a popular talk show host, during which Nick pretends to be apologetic for his infidelity and appeals to Amy to come back. It goes well with the public, but unfortunately, the police have discovered the items in the woodshed that Nick swore he did not buy: boxes of demeaning and violent porn videos, and Amy's diary. A few weeks later, they bring out the missing handle from the Punch and Judy puppets that had been soaked in Amy's blood and discovered in the river and arrest Nick.
At Desi's lake house, Amy sees the TV interview and is convinced that Nick really does want her back. She murders Desi after seducing him and returns to her husband, who is out on bond. Upon her return, she fabricates a story that she had been kidnapped and imprisoned by Desi. Although Nick knows she is lying, he has no proof and is forced to return to married life with Amy as the media storm dies down.
Though forced to remain with his wife, Nick soon begins writing a memoir detailing Amy's crimes and deceptions. Aware of Nick's intentions to expose her lies, Amy uses Nick's semen they had saved at a fertility clinic to make herself pregnant. She then forces him to delete his book by threatening to keep him from their unborn child. In the end, Nick deletes his memoir and chooses to stay with Amy for his child's sake.
- Nick Dunne: Raised in a working-class household with a misogynistic father who later suffered from Alzheimer's, a mother who later developed cancer, and a twin sister with whom he is close, Nick grew up as the golden child of the family and held several jobs throughout his adolescence. He worked as a journalist in New York City until he was laid off.
- Amy Elliott Dunne: The title character. She is very beautiful but proves to be a clever and sinister psychopath who is always three steps ahead of her enemies. She is the source of inspiration for her parents' "Amazing Amy" book series. She made a living in New York as a writer for personality quizzes and met Nick at a writers' party; they marry after two years of dating, and the marriage starts out great until they both get laid off, her parents ask for financial help, and she and Nick move to North Carthage, Missouri, after no longer being able to afford living in New York City. After that, she becomes very resentful toward Nick.
- Jim Gilpin: A detective who participated in Nick's investigation. He is described by Nick as having "fleshy bags under his eyes" and "scraggly white whiskers in his mustache."
- Rhonda Boney: A detective who participated in Nick's investigation. She has a younger brother whom she "dotes on," and is the mother of a teenaged daughter, Mia. She is described by Nick as "ugly," although he says he has an "affinity" for "ugly women." She does not want to believe Nick is really guilty despite the seeming evidence piling on the case and gives him the benefit of the doubt until things really take a turn for the worse.
- Tanner Bolt: Nick's lawyer, a defense attorney who specializes in defending husbands accused of murdering their spouses.
- Andie Hardy: A woman in her early 20s with whom Nick cheats on Amy. Andie met Nick as a student in his magazine-writing class, and their affair began 15 months before Amy's disappearance.
- Margo ("Go") Dunne: Nick's twin sister, with whom he owns a bar and has a close relationship. She remains loyal to Nick throughout the murder investigation, despite her suspicions.
- Desi Collings: Amy's boyfriend in high school, who is described as wealthy and obsessed with Amy. He is eventually murdered by Amy near the end of the novel.
Composition and publication
Gillian Flynn is a former writer for Entertainment Weekly who wrote two popular novels prior to Gone Girl — Sharp Objects and Dark Places. Gone Girl is her best selling book to date. Her other two books were about people incapable of making commitments, but in this novel, she tried to depict the ultimate commitment, marriage: "I liked the idea of marriage told as a he-said, she-said story, and told by two narrators who were perhaps not to be trusted." Flynn has also described marriage as "the ultimate mystery."
Flynn admits to putting some of herself in the character of Nick Dunne. Like Dunne, she was a popular culture writer. Also, like Dunne, she was laid off after many years at the same job. Flynn said, "I certainly wove that experience, that sense of having something that you were going to do for the rest of your life and seeing that possibility taken away... I definitely wove that sense of unrest and nervousness into Nick's character."
Asked how she can write so believably about a man's inner life, Flynn says, "I'm kind of part guy myself." When she needs to understand something about how men think, she asks her husband or a male friend. Flynn's autobiographical essay "I Was Not a Nice Little Girl..." invites readers to believe she took inspiration for Amy Dunne from her own interior monologue. In that essay, Flynn confesses to sadistic childhood impulses like "stunning ants and feeding them to spiders." A favourite indoor game called "Mean Aunt Rosie" allowed Flynn to cast herself as a "witchy caregiver" who exercised malevolent influence over her cousins. The same essay argues that women fail to acknowledge their own violent impulses and incorporate them into their personal narratives, though men tend to cherish stories of their childhood meanness.
Flynn identified Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as influences on her writing and, in particular, on the plot and themes of Gone Girl. Flynn said she admired the "ominous" ending of Notes on a Scandal and the pathology of a bad marriage from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. For the conclusion of Gone Girl, Flynn drew from Rosemary's Baby: "I love that it just ends with, you know, 'Hey, the devil's in the world, and guess what? Mom kind of likes him!'", she said.
Flynn also says she is influenced by the mystery writers Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Harlan Coben. However, she tries not to read any one genre exclusively, and she also admires Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, and Arthur Phillips, who are better known as realistic contemporary writers.
Gone Girl is an example of mystery, suspense, and crime genres. A Reader's Digest review, for instance, notes that the book is "more than just a crime novel". The review goes on to describe Gone Girl as a "masterful psychological thriller" which offers "an astute and thought-provoking look into two complex personalities". A Chicago Tribune review notes that Gone Girl uses many of the devices common to thrillers—a cast of viable suspects, unfolding secrets, and red herrings. However, the novel does more with these devices than the thriller genre requires: "While serving their usual functions, they also do much more, launching us into an unnerving dissection of the fallout of failed dreams."
In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin also writes that the elements of Gone Girl that "sound like standard-issue crime story machinations" are not, because both narrators are also consummate liars and cannot be trusted to convey the truth about their own stories. Salon.com writes that Gone Girl has literary features that enhance the crime genre features, adding that Flynn is "kicking the genre into high gear." Flynn herself says that, in writing Gone Girl, she employed the mystery genre as a "thru-lane" to explore what she was really interested in: relationships.
Gone Girl's themes include dishonesty, the devious media, the unhappiness that comes with a troubled economy, and the superficial nature of appearance. The characters lie to each other and the reader about affairs and disappearances. Amy fabricates a fake diary to implicate her husband for her disappearance and murder. Flynn says that, in writing the book, she wanted to examine how people within a marriage lie to each other: "marriage is sort of like a long con, because you put on display your very best self during courtship, yet at the same time the person you marry is supposed to love you warts and all. But your spouse never sees those warts really until you get deeper into the marriage and let yourself unwind a bit."
An underlying theme is the brief undertone of feminism, most notably represented in Amy's 'Cool Girl' speech. For some, it is in this monologue that the otherwise despised Amazing Amy emerges as an unlikely heroine of sorts; flying the flag for women who refuse to succumb to the pressure to morph into the male's ideal. Flynn is a self-identified feminist and has stated that Amy's "just pragmatically evil" character and non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters are the embodiment of feminism, which she defined as "the ability to have women who are bad characters."
Several reviews have also noted how well Gone Girl shows the tricky nature of media representation. Nick seems guilty due to media coverage before a trial occurs. Salon.com notes that "Flynn, a former staff writer for Entertainment Weekly, is especially good on the infiltration of the media into every aspect of the missing-person investigation, from Nick's cop-show-based awareness that the husband is always the primary suspect to a raving tabloid-TV Fury, who is out to avenge all wronged women and obviously patterned on Nancy Grace." Entertainment writer Jeff Giles notes that the novel also plays on reader expectations that the husband will be the murderer, expectations that have also been shaped by the media, writing, "The first half of Gone Girl is a nimble, caustic riff on our Nancy Grace culture and the way in which 'The butler did it' has morphed into 'The husband did it.'" A New York Daily News review also notes the novel's interest in how quickly a husband can be convicted in the media: "In a media society informed by Nancy Grace, when a wife goes missing, the husband murdered her. There’s no need for a body to arrive at a verdict." A San Francisco Chronicle review also notes the book's recurring commentary on media influence: "Flynn pokes smart fun at cable news, our collective obsession with social media and reality TV."
Flynn has also said that she wanted this novel to capture the sense of bankruptcy that both individuals and communities feel when the economy spirals. Not only have both her main characters lost their jobs, they have also moved to a town that is blighted by unsold houses and failed businesses. "I wanted the whole thing to feel bankrupt ... I wanted it to really feel like a marriage that had been hollowed out in a city that had been hollowed out and a country that was increasingly hollowed out," said Flynn.
Amy's "Cool Girl" speech and the vital task of Nick's performing for his media spectators, highlight the importance of establishing and maintaining appearances, however false. Flynn said this: "The whole point is that these are two people pretending to be other people, better people, versions of the dream guy and dream girl, but each one couldn’t keep it up, so they destroy each other". Amy creates her plan to frame her husband when Nick fails to maintain the false image Amy married, which she feels she is owed for keeping her side of the bargain by pretending to be his "cool girl" fantasy. She only returns to him after he gives a convincing public performance in the role of perfect husband. However, it is not his sincerity she is attracted to, she knows he is putting on an act, but the appearance of it. Amy views Nick as her ideal husband in the end because she knows he must appear to be her ideal husband, permanently, due to her blackmail and the risk of public condemnation. In exchange, she will appear as an ideal wife and mother, a trade Nick accepts. Both prefer the appearance the other projects over the reality of the person they married.
Gone Girl was #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for eight weeks. It was also twenty-six weeks on National Public Radio's hardcover fiction bestseller list. Culture writer Dave Itzkoff wrote that the novel was, excepting books in the Fifty Shades trilogy, the biggest literary phenomenon of 2012. By the end of its first year in publication, Gone Girl had sold over two million copies in print and digital editions, according to the book's publisher.
Gone Girl has been widely praised in numerous publications including the New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Chatelaine, People, and USA Today. Reviewers express admiration for the novel's suspense, a plot twist involving an unreliable narrator, its psychological dimension, and its examination of a marriage that has become corrosive. Entertainment Weekly describes it as "an ingenious and viperish thriller." The New Yorker describes it as a "mostly well-crafted novel," praising its depiction of an "unraveling" marriage and a "recession-hit Midwest," while finding its conclusion somewhat "outlandish."
The New York Times likens Gillian Flynn to acclaimed suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith. Gone Girl, the Times goes on to say, is Flynn's "dazzling breakthrough," adding that the novel is "wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so well imagined that they’re hard to part with." A USA Today review focuses on bookseller enthusiasm for the book, quoting a Jackson, Mississippi store manager saying, "It will make your head spin off." People Magazine's review found the novel "a delectable summer read" that burrows "deep into the murkiest corners of the human psyche." A Chatelaine review commends the novel's suspense, its intricately detailed plot and the way it keeps the reader "unnervingly off balance."
Many reviewers have noted the difficulty of writing about Gone Girl, because so little in the first half of the novel is what it seems to be. In his Time review, Lev Grossman describes the novel as a "house of mirrors." He also writes "Its content may be postmodern, but it takes the form of a thoroughbred thriller about the nature of identity and the terrible secrets that can survive and thrive in even the most intimate relationships."
In an article in Salon.com, Laura Miller laments that Gone Girl was conspicuously absent from the winning ranks of prestigious literary awards, like the National Book Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. The same article argues that Gone Girl was snubbed because it belongs to the mystery genre. Judges awarding top literary prizes "have all refrained from honoring any title published within the major genres." Gone Girl was chosen for the inaugural Salon What To Read Awards (2012). The novel has also been short-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction. Natasha Walter, one of the Women's Prize judges in 2013, told the Independent that there was considerable debate amongst the judges about the inclusion of Gone Girl in the finalists' circle. Walter indicated that crime fiction is often "overlooked" by those in a position to make literary commendations.
Gone Girl was recorded as a Random House audiobook, featuring the voices of Julia Whelan as Amy Dunne and Kirby Heyborne as Nick Dunne. It is an unabridged edition on fifteen compact discs and takes 19.25 hours to listen to in its entirety.
American actress Reese Witherspoon's film production company and 20th Century Fox bought the screen rights to Gone Girl, for which they paid US$1.5 million. The novel's author Gillian Flynn was engaged to write the screenplay. Witherspoon produced the film version along with Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, and Ceán Chaffin. Witherspoon was drawn to the script because of its strong female character and its use of multiple perspectives and non-linear structure. In May 2013, it was announced that David Fincher was brought on as director, with Ben Affleck cast as Nick and Rosamund Pike in the role of Amy. New Regency and Fox agreed to co-finance the film. The film was released October 3, 2014.
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Reese Witherspoon, who optioned the book last summer via her Type A production company, is on board as a producer only and will not star.
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