Gone Girl: the thinking woman’s Fifty Shades?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It is the book everybody is talking about. But can Gillian Flynn's tale of marital deviance live up to the hype? Definitely, says Matilda Battersby

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the premise of the most overhyped book of the moment, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Having sold 500,000 copies since it was published in January, this psychological thriller has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the film rights have already been snapped up for a reported $1.5 million by Reese Witherspoon (who would make an excellent female protagonist).

It is a tale of marital destruction between two thirtysomething former writers who move to a small town on the Mississippi and systematically, and selfishly, forget why they ever liked, loved or interested one-another. Stuck in an over-privileged cage of convention they each poke blithely at the other’s insecurities and resentments - every romantic breakfast, affectionate gesture, attempt at terse conversation now loaded with unspoken anger at “the pointless tasks, the myriad sacrifices, the endless small surrenders”.

A familiar story, then, for many couples who end up divorcing. But what makes the story interesting is the extreme lengths to which the husband-wife manipulation extends. And how the author cleverly gets the characters to present themselves differently to us, the reader, playing different versions of themselves, with narration that veers from delusions to downright lies. “Every marriage involves gamesmanship, little power-plays and squabbles,” Flynn said in a recent interview. “I just amplified it – a lot.”

Nick and Amy Dunne are neither likeable nor admirable characters. You won’t see women getting dreamy-eyed over Nick in the way they might have over Christian Grey of 2012’s publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey. Nick is a shady, untrustworthy failed journalist who lies about pretty much everything and spends afternoons reading back copies of the magazine he used to write for years after he was sacked. And Amy, although a perfect advocate for hell having no fury like a woman scorned, is a vain, coddled Trust Fund-baby whose high opinion of herself is maintained while exacting Machiavellian forms of revenge. Together they are a beautiful mess. Two good-looking, self-satisfied people desperately seeking attention and comfort from each other but both wilfully withholding affection and feeling they are the injured party.

The drama starts on the morning of the couple’s fifth anniversary when Nick is called home to discover that the front door of his house open. His stay-at-home wife is gone and there are signs of a struggle. Where can she be? The ensuing narrative is split into two parts: his present tense description of the search that unfolds, and her diary entries stretching back several years. The conclusions that you draw in the first two hundred pages are soon found (spoiler alert!) to have been entirely manufactured by one or both of our protagonists – which, while the latter half of the book appears to sift through the half-truths and shed light on the misnomers, leaves the reader with a distinct distrust of what they are reading. A device both gratifying and irritating.

One striking element is Amy’s description of the roles men and women play in relationships. She reveals she snared Nick by playing the “cool girl” – the kind of girl who “plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2”. A girl who, she says, doesn’t exist. The “cool girl” pretence lasts for the first couple of years of their marriage and suddenly Nick, with his “my wife doesn’t understand me” complaints, finds himself with a person who not only doesn’t like certain kinds of sex, food, video games etc but also makes certain demands and expects her husband not to be a slob.

So is it worthy of the hype? I think it’s unlikely to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction on the basis of its prose style but you can see why the book has become a word-of-mouth sensation. I read it in two sittings- its page-turning prowess is quite equal to an Agatha Christie. It is a very intelligent, if extreme, exploration of how bad domestic bliss can become. Men should be wary of dismissing it as chick lit as it reveals some alarming truths. Above all it makes you happy for your own relationship choices - things are unlikely to ever get quite this bad, one hopes!

Expect this book to receive the Fifty Shades treatment with other psychological thrillers rushed out by publishers in copycat book jackets. If you haven’t read it yet, you will have soon.

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links