I’d heard a lot of conflicting reports about Gone Girl, even before acquiring the battered second-hand copy that’s been sitting on my shelf for a good few months unread. I think the conflicting reports really put me off reading it, no one wants to start a book thinking they’re going to hate it, and originally Gone Girl wasn’t going to be in my #TBR20 list. Plus someone at work vocally let out the ending, having seen the film and thought it ‘terrible’, which also put me off (and nearly resulted in a lynching of that individual). Then I let my daughter pick a book for me, and for some reason she was determined that Gone Girl was going to be it.
Thus committed, I decided to put Gone Girl higher up the list. I sighed. I cursed the weirdly soft cover that makes my fingers itch just thinking about it. I cursed the press and the reviews I’d read and the underlying feeling of certainty that I was just going to hate it. Then I started reading. Then I read some more, and before I knew it I’d finished the book. Did I hate it? No. Is it a great book? No.
In case you don’t already know the story, Gone Girl is the story of a marriage coming apart. Nick and Amy have been married 5 years. They were forced to move from New York, Amy’s home, to Missouri (Nick’s home) due to redundancies and sickly relatives. Then, on the morning of Nick & Amy’s 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Somehow Nick doesn’t seem as sad about it as he should be, and soon the suspicion falls to him; perhaps because that’s exactly how Amy planned it.
The story is told in alternating chapters from Nick’s then Amy’s point of view. It soon becomes very apparent that neither Nick nor Amy are very nice people. In fact Amy, it appears, is something of a psychopath and Nick is an adulterous coward and a liar. I think that pretty much sums them up. I can understand the number of people who have complained that neither are sympathetic characters.
Fortunately for me I am not put off by unsympathetic characters, and in fact I rather enjoy them more than sympathetic ones. This whole novel swings back and forth between the two characters as they sink deeper and deeper into their own depravities. In Amy’s absence both characters come to appreciate something about the other, that perhaps they are better together than apart whilst recognising that neither is exactly ‘catch of the year’. As Nick reflects here:
“[…]Amy was blooming large in my mind. She was gone, and yet she was more present than anyone else. I’d fallen in love with Amy because I was the ultimate Nick with her. Loving her made me superhuman, it made me feel alive. At her easiest, she was hard, because her brain was always working, working, working – I had to exert myself just to keep pace with her. I’d spend an hour crafting a casual e-mail to her. I became a student of arcane so I could keep her interested: the Lake Poets, the code duello, the French Revolution. Her mind was both wide and deep, and I got smarter being with her. And more considerate, and more active, and more alive, and almost electric, because for Amy, love was like drugs or booze or porn: There was no plateau. Each exposure needed to be more intense than the last to achieve the same result.”
Okay, so the punctuation is a bit iffy, but this is the 21st Century and no one cares about that now, right (forcing myself not to care)? Gone Girl covers a lot of ground about fakery and what is ‘real’, the difficulties of establishing a true and honest identity in an era defined by relentless advertising and media, in which the idea of ‘self’ has never been more under attack (or so it seems. Always hard to judge against earlier eras). This is particularly drawn out in the character of Amy who, it appears, is always playing a role whether it’s ‘Amazing Amy’ the character from her parents’ series of books, obsessive Amy, the ‘too nice to be true’ Amy from her diary, or ‘Cool girl’ which is an identity I encountered in this book then saw all over the place. As Amy describes here:
“That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gangbang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry: they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, co-workers, strangers – giddy over those awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.”
This kind of social commentary peppers the book, with Amy and Nick’s disastrous relationship serving as a pivot for a deeper view of human interaction in the media age. It makes for an entertaining read. At its heart the concept is a bit silly, and the execution edges on the ridiculous, but even so I enjoyed watching Nick and Amy slowly tear each other to pieces realising along the way that perhaps they were still the best person for the other. The lengths to which they each will go to punish the other are extraordinary, and in the end the story is not in any way believable, but it is fun and entertaining and rotten to the core and I enjoyed it.