Better late than never, hmm? As an intense period at work came to a close, I decided it was time to welcome the advent of summer with a couple of good, old-fashioned, white-knuckle thrillers. The first of those was a book I’ve managed to avoid having spoiled for me: quite an achievement, considering that it’s a publishing phenomenon, a film, and has been read by everyone else on the planet except my neighbour’s cat. Finally, it was my turn to meet Nick and Amy Dunne, the picture-perfect couple whose marriage begins to go sour when they lose their jobs in the recession, and move from Amy’s native New York to Nick’s native Missouri. When Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, leaving signs of a struggle and traces of blood on the kitchen floor, everyone thinks they know how this story ends. Only they don’t. Only one person has even an inkling of what’s about to happen… and Nick Dunne is in no position to protect himself.
One of the key things about this book is that it has to be read unspoiled. It’s a twisted, knotty game in which perception swerves and uncoils and reforms itself. I enjoyed it precisely because I knew nothing. So there’s a limit to what I can say here, except to acknowledge that Flynn really has pulled it off. I’m always suspicious of bestsellers, especially the kind of psychological thrillers that are in vogue at the moment (largely thanks to Gone Girl), but this is one that really does deserve its acclaim. It isn’t all that plausible at times – the levels of evil-genius planning are simply extraordinary – but it’s jolly good fun going along for the ride, especially in the first part, as we find ourselves cast almost in the role of jurors. He said; she said: what matches? What doesn’t? Who’s more credible? Surely someone’s a psychopath in this book. But who?!
Flynn’s characterisation, apart from the more extreme evil-genius bits, was rather good. I liked her insights into the struggles and compromises of relationships, especially where one partner feels distinctly inferior to the other – either in wealth or looks or any other quality. On the one hand we have Amy: golden, glowing, the beloved only child of two writer parents who’ve gone so far as to immortalise her in a successful children’s book series, Amazing Amy. Amy, who has never had money worries, whose trust fund smooths her path through life, and who is loved everywhere she goes. And then Nick: awkward, willing but never quite successful; chipped on the shoulder by the loss of his job in New York; bewildered by the attentions of this woman who’s out of his league; and always falling that bit short as a partner, a husband. Failing to remember Amy’s favourite things. Unable to solve the clues she draws up for their anniversary treasure hunts. And, by the time of that fifth anniversary in Missouri, anxiety has turned to resentment. He just can’t do anything right. And so, as Nick takes refuge in the cliches of the petulant middle-aged man-boy, his marriage to Amy morphs into a ticking time-bomb…
And yet everything, everything, can take on a different perspective when seen from another direction, like one of those anamorphic paintings that shifts into a skull when studied from just the right angle. As Amy’s absence lengthens, and questions start to be asked more urgently, and Nick finds himself oddly unable to explain certain bizarre circumstances, it becomes ever more urgent to understand exactly what was going on in the Dunne household. At the eye of the hot storm of media frenzy, Nick finds himself becoming the most hated man in America. By the same token, Amy becomes America’s sweetheart. And that’s just how she likes it. But, in this sophisticated and dangerous game, how long is it before someone makes a false move?
Yes, it’s addictive; yes, it’s gripping; yes, I stayed up too late last night promising myself that I’d go to sleep after ‘just the next chapter’. I found the cat-and-mouse sections far more interesting and far more believable than the final part, which just seemed much too neat to be plausible, but overall it was a darn good book. And it should be, considering the number of thrillers it’s spawned. A shrewd insight into the American dream and what happens when we’re no longer as perfect as we want people to think us, as well as a rather disturbing glimpse of the power struggles that can develop within relationships. And it certainly takes the battle of the sexes to a whole new level. Read it and beware – or, if you prefer, take notes… I’d love to know what other people thought of this (and, since I seem to be the last person on earth who’s read this, there must be lots of you with opinions!). Feel free to put spoilers in the comments. I’ve been so good here that I’ve managed to get away with actually saying nothing, but I think we need to discuss the plausibility of certain aspects – is anyone really that much of an evil genius, except perhaps Moriarty? And that ending? What did you make of that?