Be Gone, ‘Gone Girl,’ and Never Darken My Brain Again

Gillian Flynn is quoted in one discussion of ‘Gone Girl’ as saying, “my goal was to make spouses look askance at each other.” How charming of her. So she set out to write something that made people distrust their partner? Okay then. That’s not weird at all.

At some point, I am going to read something I like and then write a really over-the-top sonnet about it. There will be glowing metaphors and a truly delightful couplet at the end. People will probably use it as a reading in their weddings. Clinton Cards will steal my words to put on Valentine’s cards (actually, is Clinton Cards still a thing? Never mind). Sadly, ‘Gone Girl’ is not the book to inspire this act of devotion. Because ‘Gone Girl’ is a nasty, misogynistic, misanthropic little book and doesn’t even have the good grace to actually be that little: 430 pages of this was a bit too much to take.

I don’t think you have to like the characters you’re reading about. Sometimes it is far more entertaining to hate them. But, seriously, is there a more unlikeable pair in literature than Nick and Amy Dunne? Both of them have a relentless and exhausting capacity to bang on about themselves and how brilliant/sad/misunderstood they are; really they’re just horrible people who deserve each other. The parallel narrative is a technique that’s just been done to death now; here, it is at least effective, if only in highlighting that these two vile characters have met their soulmate. The shift from Amy’s diary to her ‘real’ narrative is one of the novel’s big reveals and it works in terms of providing a big twist, but, for me, Amy was nearly as despicable before she turned out to be a ‘psycho bitch’ (a phrase delightfully employed repeatedly). We get it, Amy; you really hate all other women and are just massively superior to all of them. Well done; that’s clearly shaped you into a lovely person.  Not to mention the sense of entitlement you feel in relation to your parents; again, well done.

I note from a quick Google search that accusations of misogyny have been thrown at ‘Gone Girl,’ as well as Flynn’s other novels. The casual nature of it is what troubled me. In her diaries, when Amy is trying to present herself as the perfect wife and innocent victim, she happily dismisses women as idiots, annoyingly claiming, “it’s a very female thing, isn’t it, to take one boys’ night and snowball it into a marital infidelity?” Because, obviously, ALL WOMEN ARE EXACTLY THE SAME. When she begins to tell the more truthful version of her story, she comes out with this beautiful analysis of her gender’s place in society: “it’s easy to like pregnant women – they’re like ducklings or bunnies or dogs.” Lovely. Not that men are presented particularly nicely either. Flynn’s message here seems to be that all women are crazy and all men are cheats. I bet her husband, who she had only recently married when the novel was published, loved that.

There’s just so much in ‘Gone Girl’ to dislike. Nick seems to think that any unpleasant quality he has comes from his father, whose Alzheimer’s apparently manifests itself solely in calling women ‘bitches.’ It is no real surprise to the reader that everything Amy has ever told everyone is a lie; not because she’s a ‘psycho bitch’ but because, clearly, people just tell massive lies all the time. A key detail in the gradual discovery of Amy’s real nature is her accusation of date rape against an ex-boyfriend; the novel labours on the issue of husbands always being persecuted by the police and media when their wives go missing, but Flynn appears not to have similar sympathy for the women whose reports of rape go uninvestigated and their attackers unpunished.

And this is the main problem with ‘Gone Girl.’ Amy is clearly unhinged, unpleasant and entirely unlikeable. But she’s also basically motiveless. Yes, Nick cheats on her; setting him up for her murder is something of an over-reaction, no? Yes, Desi is clearly a bit obsessed with her; was murdering him really necessary? And don’t get me started on the whole turkey-baster situation at the end. Amy is a completely unbelievable character, even amongst Flynn’s desire to assert some weird version of feminism in which women can be evil too. Because that’s what women burned their bras for, obviously. Her emergence as the ‘psycho bitch’ is completely reductive (to use a word beloved of all pretentious people); 430 pages of the marriage breakdown, plotting against Nick and executing the plan are wasted when Flynn is then happy to present her as a basic common-or-garden lunatic.

I can’t bear to even think about this horrible book any more. I will not be looking askance at my spouse but will be very suspicious of the words ‘New York Times Bestseller’ in future.

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