Who are you?
What have we done to each other?
On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, the clues to the annual treasure hunt have been placed, the gifts have been wrapped, breakfast made. There’s only one thing missing – Amy, Nick’s wife.
Gillian Flynn’s thriller deserves its bestseller status. From the very first page, the unsettled and unsettling nature of Nick’s narrative voice in the present time contrasts eerily with Amy’s cheerful, loving diary entries dated from before her disappearance, drawing you in and exploiting the reader’s temptation to assume the wife-murderer plot trope. But soon enough, the trope-rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. There are questions, inconsistencies, decoys. Nick denies its him, but Amy’s angelic voice from the past rings out eerily behind Nick’s strange, emotionless – indeed, seemingly loveless – behaviour.
But then the second section begins and everything is turned on its head. Flynn’s shift from past diary entry to Amy’s present post-disappearance voice kicks the narrative with a thrilling jarring force – Amy isn’t dead. Nick is innocent. Does that mean the reader can shift their sympathies, defend Nick indignantly against Amy’s deception? Well, no. We find out Nick’s having an affair with a student and suddenly things become a lot more complicated as Flynn picks at the threads of this superficially healthy marriage. And so the unravelling begins.
Flynn navigates the plot’s twists and turns with impressive skill, consistently keeping the reader intrigued. What makes this novel stand out within the domestic noir genre is the ethically complex issues it throws up: in an age of social media and mass published opinion, can a jury ever be impartial? how sincere are our ‘selves’ that we present to others? and do we even want to see what ‘self’ lies underneath? I’ve read articles that talk about the novel perpetuating ideas harmful to progressive feminism, such as the issue that Amy used a rape allegation to take revenge on an ex. In reality, transposing this idea onto society’s image of rape – that it is used by women as a weapon rather than being a seriously under-reported actuality – is obviously wrong and deeply misogynistic. Yet I can’t help feeling that if the focus of one’s opinion on this novel is the unethical, immoral elements of each character’s nature, then I think they’re missing the point. These characters are deeply, deeply flawed and should most definitely not be emulated. But these flaws are vital to the plot, they drive and enable the narrative to twist in the way it does – so uncomfortably, yet so irresistibly.
Perhaps my one niggle – which is actually quite a big niggle (a biggle?) – is the novel’s end. Throughout the book, the plot becomes more toxic, more twisted, that it is just ready for an explosive finale. Nick has discovered Amy’s plans; Amy has killed Desi and escaped, making a triumphant media return; the tension of these two characters seeing each other at their most vile is unbearable. With Amy having already committed a murder, and Nick very nearly committing it, one can’t even begin to imagine what might come next. But, as it turns out, neither could Flynn. The ending, for me, was a bit limp, with Amy manipulating Nick into staying together and acting the perfect husband – with constant paranoia of murder on both sides – because she is pregnant and he’ll never find a wife as ‘interesting’ as her. Something about this ending left me feeling a bit unsatisfied – I have no idea what ending I would want to be fair – but something about these two dynamite-streaked characters simply ‘pretending’ all over again seems a bit weak, a bit sickly for their narrative strength.
That said, this is definitely not a book I regret reading. Flynn’s plot, for the most part, is very cleverly constructed, thrillingly guiding the reader through this scathing portrait of modern marriage. A must-read, worth the hype. I’m now looking forward to watching the film!