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
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot