Unreliable narrators, reliable writing creates twisted plot in ‘Gone Girl’

in Daniel's Books in a Nutshell/Entertainment by

When Nick Dunne returns home on his fifth wedding anniversary, he finds his wife Amy gone. With the door open, the iron turned on and the teakettle still on the stove, Nick realizes that something has gone terribly wrong. He calls the police, and the investigation into the mystery begins in “Gone Girl,” a thriller novel by Gillian Flynn.

As the story begins, we are treated to Nick’s narration, which is interspersed by excerpts from Amy’s diary from several years back that helps provide context for the ongoing events. We learn that though Amy and Nick were once happy New Yorkers, things changed for the couple after they lost their jobs in the financial meltdown of 2008 (Thanks, Wall Street), ran out of money, and were then forced to move to Missouri.

As the investigation proceeds, however, it becomes apparent that Nick and Amy are both unreliable narrators. Nick continually lies to the police, and both Nick and Amy’s diary intermittently introduce new information or deceptions that are intended to create a twisted, suspenseful plot. For example, though Nick initially describes his interaction with his police as if nothing was going wrong, he suddenly says, “It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting.”

Though the plot is indeed constantly changing because of these sudden revelations, once the fact that our narrators are unreliable is established, I personally found the succeeding events somewhat predictable. Despite this, the narrative is solid and interesting (though the suspense can get terrifyingly horrific at times—Flynn is not afraid to use gory descriptions of bloody scenes in her writing) and the use of unreliable narrators allows Flynn to manipulate her characters and readers in a way that enhances the plot.

Flynn’s writing does justice to this plot, and the writing is perhaps best near the beginning of the novel, where her command of diction and use of detail help drive the novel forward. She manages to create a sense of foreshadowing without revealing any of the suspense that is to come. This quality writing still stays generally constant throughout the novel, allowing readers to revel in the refreshingly descriptive tone that is maintained in the entirety of the novel.

However, this writing style is only noticeable in the beginning as the quick plot and thorough character developments soon overtake the writing. Despite the good writing, or perhaps because of it, the more I read, the more I begin to despise the characters. Most, if not all, of them seem to have some qualities or another that make them despicable, and all of their actions are easy to anticipate. At one point, Nick even acknowledges the fact that he is not easily likable after having revealed another lie to readers, by saying: “Now is the part where I have to tell you […] and you stop liking me. If you liked me to begin with.”

As our deceptive characters slowly begin to relent and the truth behind the mystery grows clearer and clearer, so do the terrible personalities of the characters. But all is not as it seems. Some characters are victims, some are murderers. Others are foolish, while others are ruthlessly intelligent. We as readers are left guessing who the characters really are, if their personalities are truly as they seem. So… guess who?

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