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Onyx reviews: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn's third novel is very difficult to discuss because half of its pleasure lies in the surprising revelations in the second half of this cleverly constructed novel. 

As Greg House often said, "Everybody lies." This is true in murder investigations as well as in medicine. However, people don't only lie because they are guilty of murder. People have secrets that threaten to be exposed when the police go digging around. The investigators have to figure out why people are lying, as well as getting to the truth.

Gone Girl begins on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth anniversary. Flynn drops subtle and devious hints that everything isn't going swimmingly in the Dunne household. When Nick returns home at the end of the afternoon, Amy is missing. The front door is open, and there are signs of a struggle. When the police arrive, they take Nick seriously. Is it a homicide, a kidnapping, or something else? 

It wasn't an idyllic marriage. They started out in Manhattan. Amy was independently wealthy and a minor celebrity because her parents were the authors of a successful series of children's books that featured her as the protagonist. Their circumstances change when Nick loses his job after the magazine he works for closes. Amy's parents contribute to their troubles by investing poorly and losing most of her money in the process. They decide to move back to Nick's hometown in Missouri to support his ailing parents. The last chunk of Amy's savings goes to buy a bar for Nick and his sister Margo.

The first half of the novel is told from two alternating perspectives. One starts from the morning of Amy's disappearance and proceeds forward from Nick's point of view. How Amy's disappearance affects his life, and how the police investigation unfolds. Since Amy can't speak for herself, her story is told in the form of her diaries, which recount the past five years of married life. She tries her best to make things work, but it's a struggle. She feels isolated and alone in Missouri. The two accounts stand in stark contrast. Wherein lies the truth?

One of Amy's anniversary traditions was to create an elaborate treasure hunt for Nick to follow. The clues were based on obscure details in their relationship that Nick almost always failed to deduce, a source of conflict and disappointment for Amy. This year is no different: Nick finds the first clue in the empty house. In his spare time, while eluding the scrutiny of the police, he works on the puzzles.

Remember: Everybody lies, and for their own particular purposes. Nick lies to Amy. Amy lies to Nick. They both lie in their accounts of events. Sometimes they lie by failing to divulge important details, sins of omission. Gone Girl is a brilliant demonstration of the unreliable narrator concept taken to the limit. In the future it may be held in the same high esteem as Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Nick's lies start to come to light. He admits to some (to readers, if not always to the police), and other are exposed by the criminal investigation. While people sympathized with Nick at first, accusing the police of waging a witch-hunt against the harried spouse, Nick isn't distraught enough to engender their undying support. As his inconsistencies and deceptions are exposed, everyone begins to turn against him: his friends, the police, the media, even Amy's parents. By the middle of the book, many readers will suspect that he killed his loving wife. Still, there's no body, so it's all circumstantial. Shaky alibis. Nick's deadpan demeanor that displays little alarm and no grief. Life insurance policies. Stories of celebrity stalkers obsessed with Amy. Overheard conflicts. Infidelities. Amy's need to buy a gun.

Then Flynn pulls the rug out from under everyone, and the less said about that the better. Suffice to say, Nick and Amy truly deserved each other, in ways that are impossible to describe. While the resolution isn't entirely satisfying (maybe only 90% satisfying; some readers might have wished for a greater comeuppance for the guilty party/parties), the book is such a roller coaster ride of astute characterization and well-timed and intelligently considered revelations, that this minor shortcoming can be readily overlooked. Flynn demonstrates that characters don't necessarily have to be likable to be compelling, and she has a flair for compulsive plotting. This book is the very definition of "dark." People who discover her through this novel will like feel the need to go back to her previous two works to see how she has grown as a writer.

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