What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
For the first ten months of 2014, my heart was set on Spike Jonze’s Her as my favourite movie of the year. I absolutely loved everything about Her, from the high-waisted pants to the melancholy soundtrack by Arcade Fire. And as every good film should, Her sparked new ideas in me as I left the theatre, ideas about relationships and the rapidly expanding role of technology in our lives. I couldn’t imagine enjoying another movie as much as I enjoyed Her.
And then came Gone Girl.
I actually walked into Gone Girl after having read the entire plot summary off of Wikipedia, which some might call a mistake. It is, after all, a story heavily dependent on plot twists and subverting the audience’s expectations. Despite this, however, I remained gripped by the movie the entire time, and I have been singing its praises to anyone who will listen since then. Luckily enough, one of my friends was kind enough to lend me the book, and I devoured it in less than a week.
At the simplest level, Gone Girl is a crime novel. Someone commits a crime (well, multiple people commit crimes) which is solved.
But what I love about Gone Girl is that it is not simply a crime novel. It is a novel about relationships, about gender roles, about writing, and about marriage.
It is also a deeply self-aware novel. Like Nick, Gillian Flynn was a writer for an entertainment magazine who was laid off. As the characters in the novel work to solve Amy’s disappearance, reading other crime novels and conducting some rather morbid Google searches, the reader can’t help but imagine Flynn performing these same tasks to construct her own story.
We are all familiar with the story within a story. Gone Girl takes this trope further with Nick and Amy Dunne, writers who lost their jobs in the 2008 financial crisis, actively writing their own versions of the story, through Amy’s diary entries, her clues for their annual treasure hunt, with their clever rhymes and hidden meanings, capturing what she considers to be the special moments of their relationship. The discrepancies of memory between Nick and Amy should be viewed in the context of the crime novel, with both narrators altering their stories to appear sympathetic to the audience. Still, I couldn’t help but think that we all do this, in our everyday relationships. We remember what we want to remember.
In one of Amy’s diary entries, she details her plans for the couple’s first anniversary:
I’ll give him his present–the monogrammed stationery he’s been wanting from Crane & Co. with the clean sans-serif font set in hunter green, on the thick creamy stock that will hold lush ink and his writer’s words. Stationery for a writer, and a writer’s wife who’s maybe angling for a love letter or two.
Yet Nick’s recollection of this gift is entirely different, and he denies ever having wanted the stationery in the first place.
At the end of Year One’s unexpectedly wrenching treasure hunt, Amy presented me with a set of posh stationery, my initials embossed at the top, the paper so creamy I expected my fingers to come away moist. In return, I’d presented my wife with a bright red dime-store paper kite, picturing the park, picnics, warm summer gusts. Neither of us liked our presents; we’d each have preferred the other’s.
Diary Amy enjoys bending the truth, but it’s also crucial to the plot that the diary blur fact and fiction in its depiction of the Dunnes’ marriage. It calls to attention the fraudulent nature of memory. How often have we remembered an event, been positive that that was the way something happened, only to have someone remember it completely the opposite way? How can you prove that something happened a certain way, without cold, hard facts?
As far as movie adaptations go, the film does an excellent job at conveying the same story in a different medium. Yet the novel is still worth a read, full of ideas absent from the film, especially regarding gender roles. In the film, the role of Nick’s father is reduced to a harmless, senile old man whose escape from his senior home coincides with the day of Amy’s disappearance. In the novel, he is a deeply misogynistic man whose views are unwillingly yet unshakeably inherited by his son, whose discomfort around women, from Detective Boney to Amy to Andie, is uncomfortable for both Nick himself and the reader.
Yet what struck me most was the terrifying intimacy of marriage, as portrayed in the novel. The relationship between the Dunnes in Gone Girl, despite the abuse, the guilt, the violence, the lies, is one of absolute intimacy. Nick and Amy clearly know each other well: how to please, how to anger, and how to placate each other. It is because of their intimate gestures for each other: the treasure hunt and the inside jokes, that they are both able to hurt each other. And isn’t that the age-old story? Love is pain.
YES OR NO?: A resounding YES. I only advise that you read the book before watching the movie, as I did the opposite and found myself just waiting for things to happen while reading. Gone Girl is an excellent book on many levels, and I would recommend it to anyone (well, unless you have an exceptionally weak stomach)!