Title: Gone Girl
Paperback: 463 pages
Publication Date: 03/01/2013
At the outset of this review, I have a confession to make. When this novel first came out, and was picking up momentum as a bestseller, I took a conscious decision not to read it. To be completely honest, I had been reading quite a few psychological suspense novels at the time, and was rather keen to avoid reading any more ‘woman-in-peril’ novels. And so it sat on my shelf and gathered dust for the best part of a year and a half, until I decided to finally read it on a flight over the summer.
Why is this relevant to my review? Because, despite the rave reviews that this novel has received from all corners, I have to admit that I found myself curiously ambivalent towards it. And I suspect that part of that response may be due to my delaying of my reading of the book. For, when I finally came to open it, I had subconsciously built up an internal resistance to it – one which required the novel to be absolutely incredible for that semi-prejudice to be dispelled.
And, whilst the novel is undoubtedly well written, with a strong plot, good structure, filled with twists and overall a compelling and pact read, it never scaled the heights that it probably needed to win me over totally. So this is certainly not a negative review, but it also isn’t a totally positive review. I can completely see why the novel has been so successful across the world, and I read it in one sitting, but I found myself in a strange kind of mental limbo when trying to decipher my response to it – which is not something that I can often say about books that I read.
The plot itself, revolving around the sudden and mysterious disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne and the subsequent suspicion that falls on her husband Nick Dunne, is a pretty well-worn set-up for the genre. There are signs of a struggle at the home that they both shared and Nick’s alibi is both patchy and fairly insubstantial. And as the plot develops, the reader becomes increasingly suspicious of Nick and his actions (as well as what we begin to suspect he is holding back). And the use of Nick as the primary narrative point-of-view character is in keeping with the usual parameters of the genre.
However, it is the introduction of an alternative POV from around the half-way point in the novel that marks Gone Girl from the competition. It is a very clever twist that completely alters the reader’s mind-set – especially in relation to all of the developments that have occurred in the first half of the book. And the twists that proliferate the novel means that the pace of the book is unrelenting, especially given the confident, assured manner in which the book is written.
But, for me personally, there were two main problems that stopped me from loving this book. The first was the characters. They are well drawn and brought out by the author. However, I also failed to empathise or like any of them, especially Nick. Now, I think that this is something that the author actively needed to do, in order for some of the major twists and reveals in the book to work – in particular the ones that paint Nick in a negative light and make the reader question him as a reliable narrator. But the problem is that, having failed to warm to Nick from the outset of the novel, these constant reveals meant that I was unable to ever emotionally attach myself to his predicament. And, as a result, I ended up not really caring about what was happening to him.
Allied to this, the majority of the characters who orbited Nick within the world of the novel were – in the majority – self-centred and difficult to like. So, personally, I found myself unable to truly invest myself in the characters’ themselves, with my interest focused on finding out how the plot was going to be resolved rather than what was going to happen to the characters. It is a subtle distinction, but for me an important one if I am going to completely commit to a read.
My second problem revolved around the ending. And, to be honest, this is not just something that is confined to Gone Girl, but is prevalent across the whole of the psychological suspense genre. More often than not, there seems to be a correlation between the number of twists that a book contains and the difficulties that this presents to the author when trying to create a satisfying ending. It often seems almost impossible for the author to achieve, and this novel was no exception. Because, to be frank, the ending was very difficult to believe – and the characters’ attempts to explain it through their different narrations made it even more difficult to stomach. It is difficult to explain without giving away the major part of the plot, but safe to say I didn’t feel that it felt satisfactory as a conclusion to what had gone before.
Overall I realise, from reading this review back, that it probably comes across as rather a negative view of Gone Girl. But this certainly isn’t what I was intending when sitting down to write it. Looking at this book from a completely objective standpoint I can completely see why it has been so successful. It is well written, pacy, with some really clever plotting and twists. But ultimately, for the major twists of this novel to work it required characters who weren’t really that likeable. And, for me, this meant that the book’s major strength was inextricably linked to what I felt was its major weakness – that I couldn’t fully emotionally invest in any of the characters. Certainly not enough to turn a good read into a great read for me.