A killer marriage

Lead review

A killer marriage

Gone girl, Gillian Flynn.Crown. 2012, pp 576, Rs 350

‘Gone Girl’ is intensely appealing because it holds a mirror to us, our relationships,
drives and motivations in these troubled times, writes Revathi Siva kumar.

The first thing that strikes you about this latest novel by Gillian Flynn is its meticulous construct. It is so immaculately crafted in conception, plot, theme, characterisation and narrative that you keep looking for a crack to fall through.

Interestingly, the author is looking for it too. It is easy to see that Flynn has revisited and revised her book umpteen times in an attempt to make it foolproof. Yet, the genius of the craft lies in the fact that she is able to keep you guessing and totally baffled about the plot, and not able to resist getting gripped.

The book works on many levels — as a mystery, psychological thriller or a deeper examination of relationships. It seems to be any, as well as all of these. You are reminded of the master classic writers, of course. Not just of Mark Twain, whose Tom Sawyer is interwoven into the fabric of the book. Not just of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, but also of Raymond Carver, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Mostly Rebecca.

Hence, complete with missing wife, attempted murder, psychopathic killer and surprise ending, Gone Girl has the thriller-type format that promises racy reading. At times, the plot seems contrived and artificial. However, the author works very hard to make the turn of events plausible as an offshoot of the characters’ logic. Sometimes the effort shows, but at most places it rings true.

What makes it rise above a mere murder story, though, is the close, credible and tight control over the narrative, the depth of characterisation, and the profound, philosophical underpinning. The message on the cover says it all: “There are two sides to every story…” and you realise it in a series of shocking revelations that follow one after the other.

The book opens on the day Amy Elliott, wife of Nick Dunne, disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. Nick is the number one suspect, as Amy’s friends accuse him of ill-treating her. There are strange messages in his computer, and strange calls on his mobile. However, he is as baffled as the reader. On the surface, that is the plot. You are made to view the situation in various ways and alternately through the points of view of Nick and Amy.

What you see is a breaking marriage, a cheating husband, cold wife, abusive or unsound or manipulative parents against the backdrop of recession and joblessness. Typical, even cliched American family, perhaps? At least that is what it looks like.

Yet, here is also the opportunity to examine their own relationship, the institution of marriage and its role in the lives of a frustrated, mismatched couple in a recession-hit economy. Both Nick and Amy seem to be doing the self-examination in the past as well as present. “I suppose these questions stormcloud every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

Slowly, you begin to discern the finer nuances of the situation. Of ‘poor’ Amy, ‘mean’ Nick and ‘helpless’ parents. An impossible situation, where you are drawn to sympathise with both protagonists and even the other characters, as you are introduced to their reasonably human personality flaws. However, you are drawn mostly to Amy, who comes across as well-meaning, naïve, but misinformed. Of being too trusting, and who, by having funded Nick’s business venture, has been almost ‘exploited’. By the time you get into the heart of the book, you have made up your mind about the characters, their drives, motivations and are even beginning to make your predictions of the plot. Nick falls in the darker shade of grey, and he has wronged Amy, you decide. Every character in the book has wronged Amy, and Nick has murdered her.

Made to believe

That is when you are taken on a completely different course in the second part of the book. The events and incidents are the same, but the points of view are suddenly different, which gives everything a completely new colour and flavour. As is intended, you gasp at the sheer difference that a point of view can make. You begin to understand the layered complexity that can come through because of a slight shift in nuance, tone and perspective. And finally, you realise that the plot is completely different.

It is Flynn’s genius that she is able to weave the totally divergent plot into the theme of the book, and keep the momentum going without losing the reader. Whatever has been carefully constructed in the past section has to be plausibly deconstructed, unlearnt and rebuilt.

While the plot is relentlessly tight, with a mindblowingly unpredictable ending, you realise that as readers, you have been tricked. The theme at the heart of the book seems to be: What happens to a relationship that is built on lies? How far does it stretch, and will it sustain?

In keeping with the plot, the prose flows with a racy, pacy style, yet with sharp images that jolt you and keep you on your feet. Savour this: “The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil.”

“This was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world — throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won’t kill us in the night.”

The difference in the styles between Nick and Amy, as well as the later Nick and Amy is remarkable. As you are taken inside each character’s head, you begin to think like them, sympathise and even wish to act like them in their unethical and immoral trajectories.
Like Flynn’s first two novels, Gone Girl is likely to win acclaim, and is already among New York’s top 10 in the best-seller list. You realise why when you read the book at one go: Not just because the book is a thriller, but because it holds a mirror to us, our relationships, drives and motivations in these troubled times.

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