Gone Girl (novel)
|Publisher||Crown Publishing Group|
|Pages||432 (first edition)|
Gone Girl is a thriller novel by American writer Gillian Flynn. Crown Publishing Group published the novel in June 2012 and it soon made the New York Times Best Seller list. The novel's principal suspense comes from uncertainty about the main character, Nick Dunne, and whether he is involved in the disappearance of his wife. The book is an example of the literary subgenre called Domestic Noir.
In several interviews, Flynn has said that she was interested in exploring the psychology and dynamics of a long-term relationship. In portraying her principal characters who are out-of-work writers, she made use of her own experience being laid off from her job as a writer for Entertainment Weekly.
Critics in the United States positively received and reviewed the novel. Reviewers praised the novel's use of unreliable narration, plot twists, and suspense.
Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne's difficult marriage, which is floundering for several reasons. The first half of the book is told in first person, alternately, by both Nick and Amy; Nick's perspective is from the present, and Amy's from the past by way of journal entries. The two stories are very different. Amy's account of their marriage makes her seem happier and easier to live with than Nick depicts. Nick's story, on the other hand, describes her as extremely anti-social and stubborn. Amy's depiction makes Nick seem more aggressive than he says he is in his story.
Nick loses his job as a journalist due to downsizing, and Amy loses her job as a magazine quiz writer shortly after. The couple relocate from New York City to his small hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, in part so the couple can help care for his dying mother. He opens a bar using the last of his wife's trust fund and runs it with his twin sister, Margo. The bar provides a decent living for the three Dunnes, but the marriage becomes more dysfunctional. Amy loved her life in New York and hates what she considers the soulless "McMansion" which she and Nick rent.
On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Over time, Nick becomes a prime suspect in her disappearance for various reasons: he used her money to start a business, increased her life insurance, and seems unemotional, at times even smiling inappropriately, on camera and in the news. The police later find boxes of violent pornography and other items he had denied purchasing in the woodshed in Margo's garden, further implicating him. It is revealed that Amy was pregnant, and Nick hires Tanner Bolt, a lawyer who specializes in defending men accused of killing their wives.
In the novel's second half, the reader learns Amy and Nick are unreliable narrators and that the reader has not been given all of the information. Nick has been having an affair with one of his college students named Andie, and Amy is alive and hiding, trying to frame Nick for her "death." Her diary is revealed to be fake, intended to implicate Nick to the police. Nick soon discovers that Amy is framing him but has no way of proving it.
Together, Nick, Margo, and Tanner Bolt work to find ways to change the public's perception of Nick. Nick discovers the truth about two people who supposedly harmed Amy in the past: a former comedian named Tommy O'Hara and Hilary Handy, Amy's former classmate. According to their sides of the story, Amy had set Tommy up for seeing another woman, and Hilary for not doing things the way Amy wanted her to. Nick comes across an amateur reporter named Rebecca and allows her to interview him, and due to the positive reception, he's granted an interview with Sharon Schieber. There, he is apologetic and seemingly repentant of his affair with Andie, and appeals to Amy to come back.
Amy is robbed by fellow guests of a motel she was hiding in and is left without any money. Desperate, she seeks help from her obsessive first boyfriend, Desi. He agrees to hide her, but Amy soon feels trapped in his house as Desi becomes possessive. After seeing the TV interview with Sharon Schieber, she is convinced that Nick really does want her back. She murders Desi and returns to her husband, saying she had been kidnapped and imprisoned by her former boyfriend. Nick knows she is a killer, and that her pregnancy was never legitimate, but he stays in the marriage because he has no proof of her crimes and deceits. Amy forces him to fake his love, hoping that he will eventually love her the way she wants to be loved. She begins writing her memoirs, while Nick writes his own memoir exposing Amy's lies. Aware of his intentions to expose her, Amy then impregnates herself with Nick's semen from the fertility clinic, and makes him delete his book by implicitly threatening to keep him from their unborn child and turn it against Nick. In the end, Nick chooses to stay with Amy, keeping the charade forever, for his child's sake.
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 favorite 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, and the unhappiness that comes with a troubled economy. The characters lie to each other and the reader about affairs and disappearances. Amy makes 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 your warts and all. But your spouse never sees those warts really until you get deeper into the marriage and let yourself unwind a bit." Also certain aspects taken from Charlie and the Great Glass elevator.
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.
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 of Grey series, 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, New York Times, Time, Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Chatelaine, People Magazine, 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 audio book, 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 hear 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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- Kit, Borys (22 January 2013). "David Fincher in Talks to Direct 'Gone Girl'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Siegel, Tatiana (17 July 2013). "Rosamund Pike Emerges as Front-Runner to Star in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
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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