I started to read this book when I had a four-hour layover at Halifax airport on my way home from Ottawa. I had the hard cover copy of the book so anyone who might be idly curious could see what I was reading and no fewer than three people interrupted me to say how much they liked Gone Girl. I must say it was an enjoyable read that made the tedium of travel pass very quickly. I’d describe it as being of the mystery-suspense genre. It involves Nick and Amy, husband and wife. He is handsome and charming in a carefree way. She is more serious and not as outgoing; you might describe her as being very proper. She seems to think she and Nick are in everyway a class above their friends and acquaintences. Amy has to live up to a reputation her parents created for her even before she was old enough to read. They made her the subject of a series of children’s books wherein she is characterised as ‘Amazing Amy’ a perfect little girl who could do no wrong. The series became a multi year best seller and earned the family a forture. Nick and Amy are both professional writers and at the beginning of the book they are living and working in New York City. They enjoy an affluent lifestyle taking advantage of the best that New York has to offer until Nick looses his job with the downturn in the US economy and because of the radical changes brought on by the digitization of the publishing world. They move back to Nick’s hometown in Minnesota because Nick wants to re-invent his working life by going into business with his twin sister and because he wants to be closer to his mother who is terminally ill. Amy resents the move because the only place she wants to live is New York City and so she sits in their new home brooding until one day she becomes the Gone Girl of the title. On this day, Nick returns home to find his house in upheaval and Amy missing. When the police become involved Nick, as the husband of the abducted or potentially murdered victim, becomes a prime suspect.
To enhance the suspense the story is doled out in chapters narrated alternately by Nick and Amy. At first the reader is very sympathetic to both. However about one quarter of the way through the story we sniff the odour of sociopaths and the manipulating influence of the power of image as portrayed through mass media. To convince the world of his innocence Nick must be not just the concerned and loving husband much more than that he must project the image of such a man. This is a tricky business eventually requiring the assistance of a person who is a master at influencing the way the news in all its forms perceives the situation.
The principal characters in this book turn out to be people with whom you would never wish to be acquainted. If you could peel back their flesh like an orange you would see that underneath there would be nothing but wreathing maggots clinging to an externally handsome carcass like Mephistopheles in Dr. Faustus. (my apologies to Thomas Mann and for being melodramatic). Well, who says you have to have likeable characters to create a very good work of fiction?
The book is broken up into thirds. The first part seeds, suspicion, doubt and clues that are both false and true and excites the reader’s curiosity and puzzlement building suspense. The second part reveals everyone’s true colours and the third resolves the plot with startling just desserts for the guilty and in an interesting twist skips over the imposition of conventional justice to impose instead, a special kind of hell on the guilty.
Any aspiring writer attempting to create a well structured thriller might find Gone Girl an excellent template to follow.