Monday, October 22, 2012

Gone Girl ~ Gillian Flynn

The quality or enjoyability of the audiobooks I listen to is positively correlated with how clean my apartment is.  For example, while I was listening to The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, I consistently had a sink full of dishes, the floors could do with a sweeping, and when did I last scoop out the litter box?  On the other hand, my apartment has spent the last week in a state of near perfection.  The floors were all swept, the sink was almost always empty, and I even cleaned off the top of the microwave, where I store my spices, which I have literally never done before.  The reason?  Gone Girl.

For those who’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I don’t usually read mystery thrillers.  It’s not that I hate them, they’re just not my thing.  But every so often, especially leading up to Halloween, a good whodunnit is just the thing, and when I read a review of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s newest novel, a couple of weeks ago, I knew that it would have to be my next audiobook.  I hadn’t actually heard of the book before, so you can imagine my surprise when I started seeing it everywhere online and in stores and even heard classmates talking about it.

And for good reason.  I’ll give the briefest of synopses: it’s Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary and Amy is missing.  There are signs of a struggle and clues pointing to - what?  The novel alternates between both of their viewpoints and we meet Nick, a liar who struggles not to be his misogynistic father, and Amy, who is an adoring, accepting wife, who makes lobster for every anniversary and prides herself for not to be a nagging, demanding wife, even when Nick is a giant douche.

Ladies (and gentlemen, as the case may be), the audiobook was so good.  There were two narrators, one for each part, and their voices weren’t weird, and they did inflections so well, and believably quoted other people.  It’s generally difficult for me to evaluate the quality of writing in audiobooks, so I won’t comment on that, but the performance was just great.  These aren’t actors, they’re performers.

To switch gears, let’s talk about women.  Beware spoilers, for what’s coming is sure to spoil everything.

So, about halfway through the novel, we learn that a) Nick didn’t do it and b) Amy is disturbingly sane - not only did she stage the whole thing, she set up dozens of little clues that point straight to her husband.  She set the whole thing up over a year.  Only a coldly sane person could do such a thing; a crazy person just couldn’t manage it.  At this point, her tone changed too, from the sugary-sweet words of her fake diary (yet another clue) to her true voice.  We meet a narcissistic woman who believes that Nick is truly getting what he deserves and who is so angry for the central conflict of her life: who she is versus whom society demands she be in order to get the admiration she so believes she deserves.

So, this is a feminist view.  Women aren’t allowed to be who they are when society and the media are filled with images of who they are expected to be.  It’s not just Amy’s conflict, it’s all women’s conflict.  And it made me so mad because why the hell is a strong woman who struggles to be accepted for who she is being portrayed as a murderous psychopath?  The underlying message is so damaging, just playing into society's existing problems. A couple of beats later, I got it (or I think I did - I try to avoid the idea that there is a central point to literature, but that's another conversation for another time) - it’s not that feminists and/or strong women are psychopaths - it’s that this is what society has driven her to.  The central conflict of Amy’s life has torn her apart, turned her into a narcissistic beast in search of vengeance for how she has been wronged.  She didn’t just set Nick up, he set her up too, in his expectations for her to be a “cool girl” (a phrase they both use).  Amy doesn’t know who she is - she herself says that she changes personalities.  This murderous, vengeful woman is just another possibility for her, just another facade, and under that - who knows?

And then the ending, the disturbing, saccharine-sweet ending: Amy and Nick (with Amy narrating, because of course she needs the last word), on the eve of their sixth wedding anniversary and their baby’s due date, faking love and marriage and all that.  For Amy, because she knows she has the control and despite her hatred for him, she and Nick know each better than anybody else ever could.  For Nick, because he wants to protect his child and because he knows that no other woman would ever be enough after Amy, bundle of contradictions and terror that she is.  So they fake it.  He rubs her feet, she orders the lobsters, they hold hands.  And yes, it’s taken farther than most marriages are, but do all married people do this to some extent?  Are we all faking it, do we all fear our spouses just a little bit?  I say no, or at least I’m not - but it makes you wonder.  Will I fake it, in ten years or twenty?  Will I be driven to the extreme, to the point of no return?

P.S.  I kept my husband updated on every twist and turn in this book because hello - it was crazy!  And now I have a great justification for the “you better not piss me off...” line.  Also, I really want to do the treasure hunt for him, except not as a challenge and without murder clues planted at each destination.  You’ve got to hand it to her - Amy is freaking brilliant.


  1. Ah, yes, definitely the mark of a good audiobook when errands are done, the house is clean, the flowers in the yard don't have weeds growing around them. I read this book a few months before release and couldn't put it down. I can't imagine how it would be in an audiobook format. If you haven't read her debut Sharp Objects, do check it out. It's much more dark and twisted, and oh yeah, wicked disturbing. But, the house does stay clean!!

  2. Okay, you made me feel a little better about the book with your line, "it’s not that feminists and/or strong women are psychopaths - it’s that this is what society has driven her to." Because I just read the book and enjoyed it a lot - it's so well-told - but was really troubled by the implication that feminists are inevitably going to be sociopaths, wanting to kill men to get back at them for society's expectations. Still, I can't help feeling like that's why it's so popular, because ultimately, feminism is pathological, even if it's clear that society's pathological too. I think I am less forgiving toward Flynn because Sharp Objects, the only other one of her books I've read, also has that theme going through it.

    1. Hmmm...I haven't read Sharp Objects too, though I intend to. I'm not sure why feminism is pathological...? But yes, there is probably an element of "strong women are crazy!" to the hype. That is troubling, but I think that in the text itself it works - that that isn't the actual point that Flynn is going for.

    2. Also, so glad to have a comment from someone interested in feminist issues in literature! Usually my feminist thoughts are completely ignored on this blog!