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Book Club Spy: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Perhaps as a reaction against slightly niche choices over the last few months, the most recent selection was a thriller, whose black jacket bristling with bold orange lettering has mushroomed in tube carriages over the last six months or so. Flynn constructed a cunning thriller in Gone Girl, and doesn’t she know it. Aside from the final 100 pages, which were universally unpopular, the construct seemed to have most of us hooked. The use of the word construct is deliberate – the reader can hear Flynn pitching this book, and asking a younger relative if her depiction of Facebook is realistic – as the reliable equation for a gripping yarn is present here, but so twisted that it takes a while to realize that its claws are entrenched in your forearm, and therein lies the appeal.

The equation is there for a reason: suspecting A only to realize their misdemeanour pales in contrast to B and how could we have ever suspected A is part of the game. An old hand (a club to which I am not yet admitted, having failed to realize the diary was a plant) would ask why goading in the press to lure the culprit out of hiding would work on anyone who was familiar with serial killer roulette, however after this results in the bedraggled baddie appearing on the doorstep for a distinctly bitter reunion, perhaps they won’t mind. And of course rotisserie of those involved in a murder inquiry on television cameras provides entertainment, as Flynn points out, “America loves to see sinners apologize”.

America’s underbelly sags here for the reader’s delectation: bodies are described as ‘hog-tied’, the ugliness of the Midwest is laid bare, and at one point Jello salad is seriously proffered as a dish to be consumed. However, this setting is vital for many of the novel’s more compelling scenes: Amy’s hiding place is spoiled when two other drifters band together to rob her of her getaway fund, and her plan to kill herself (as discussed in London Fields, the final, controlling act of a perfectionist) dissipates. This beacon for sweaty transients is perfectly summed up by the close of one chapter: “The catfish gobble up the guts of their fallen brethren. The dock is left clean.”

Six Feet Under fans may recognize in Amazing Amy a child portrayed by parents who become successful as a result of using their offspring. Regardless, the parents are absorbing in their pitiable absurdity, although a few nobly tried to accuse them of being overly Freudian during our discussion. The fruit of their labours is capable of being wonderfully malicious – waiting until her husband is asleep to rub his fingerprints all over planted evidence – before revealing that the image of herself she projected in order to snare her husband was that of Cool Girl, an ideal composite of lies to get the job done. The only thing that lets her down as a character is her conviction of how bright she is: being self-congratulatory on her diary with the typical narcissism of a psychopath of course makes you question whether this is Flynn praising herself. It is miraculous, upon reflection, that there are no shoehorned references to Sun Tzu or Machiavelli. Compared to Amy, secondary characters like Go and Desi become paper-thin; her husband Nick only fares a little better.

He goes from being a suspect -revealing to you at the end of a chapter that he has told the first of five lies – when in fact his worst secret is his infidelity, a state which gives rise to such inspiring sentences as “It was one of the things I liked best about her, that I could show her things”. What a wordsmith.

The portrayal of a marriage becoming as toxic as it possibly can initially raises the question of proximity leading to intimacy – as opposed to familiarity engendering contempt – before ultimately creating a far darker one: do you stay with someone who continually interests you, or because they are all you know?

The Editors

You can download the book here.

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