I have become the literary equivalent of a food taster: people throw books at me so I can try them out and let them know if they’re worth reading. That’s where this blog came from and how I came to read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. It’s unlikely I would have picked this book on my own after reading (and strongly disliking) Flynn’s first book, Dark Places. To her credit, Flynn’s writing and pacing have come a long way since then—the story is better balanced, her characters have more unique voices, and while it’s still predictable, it’s very entertaining. Such improvement between her first and third books actually has me excited for her fourth.
At its core, the story is pretty simple. Just before Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. There are signs of a struggle in the house and the clues begin pointing to Nick. Nick is forced to investigate the crime himself while the police are crawling over him in their investigation. Then things get complicated. Gone Girl is neatly divided in half: part one deals with Amy’s disappearance as a simple whodunnit; the second part solves this mystery before cutting between current events and the perpetrator’s background and motive.
So here’s where this review gets messy, because the first part is considerably weaker than the second. From very early on, I was pretty sure who had kidnapped Amy and I was pretty sure why. I couldn’t see why Flynn was going on so long, pretending that she hadn’t been found out. To me, it was obvious. But I was surprised by the reviews I read: a great many people were genuinely shocked by the confession in part two. So maybe it isn’t obvious? It’s a point of pride in writing a mystery novel to give subtle clues at the beginning that will solve the mystery in the end, but Flynn’s subtle clues don’t seem all that subtle. Her attempts at misdirection are transparent.
But then she redeems herself. The writing in the second half is so much tighter, so much more engaging, that I suspect Flynn was as bored writing the first half as I was reading it. When she breaks out in part two, it seems like she is writing the book that she really wanted to write instead of merely setting it up. There are at least a dozen ways the story could have ended and it’s not clear which way it’s going until the final pages. The contrast between the characters’ private and public personae keep the tension high while providing periodic bits of dark humor. As the book becomes darker, these small bits of humor become necessary.
One drawback is that there is a shortage of truly likable people in this book. Everyone has a motive and no one walks away without a little dirt on their hands. It may sound silly and naive to want someone to root for, but if there was such a character, perhaps the ending wouldn’t seem so hollow for all its cleverness.
Translation: If you know who did it and you’re getting bored, don’t permanently quit the book until you’ve given the second half a chance.