Dissecting a relationship

'Gone Girl' has so many twists and turns that revealing anything more will just serve as spoilers: there is an accurate depiction of the expectations men and women have of each other.

Nick basks in the adoration of women but when he is thrust into the public eye after his wife’s disappearance, his shallow personality and inability to show real emotion don’t translate well on television.
Nick basks in the adoration of women but when he is thrust into the public eye after his wife’s disappearance, his shallow personality and inability to show real emotion don’t translate well on television.

It’s one of the most talked about books in a long time and has now been made into a movie, directed by David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

It has sparked off a heated debate about misogyny, domestic abuse (both real and fabricated) and what really goes on behind closed doors.

'Gone Girl', written by Gillian Flynn, has hit a nerve because by cleverly shifting the narrative between husband and wife who are telling the same story, it sifts through the thousands of spider webs of shared history which make up a marriage.  While the main plot of this psychological thriller hinges on the disappearance of Amy and how her husband Nick is the immediate, most obvious suspect, the book is about much more than that.

Rarely has a writer managed to peel back the onion layers of a relationship so skillfully. You read sentences like, “it’s dangerous to laugh at your spouse” and you take a sharp, inward breath at such a truism. Because it’s true isn’t? In a relationship, in a marriage, you are supposed to be team, one for all and all for one. It’s OK to laugh at others, as married people so often do on their way home from a dinner party, during which they exchange funny observations about the other guests.

It’s the kind of camaraderie which is built up over many years – the kind of intuitive behaviour of two people who have been together for so long that they end up reading each other’s minds, finding amusement in the same things. 

But once you start laughing at your spouse with others (not in a gentle, affectionate, teasing way but in cruel mockery), then something is off; you have crossed an invisible line. It is a form of disloyalty that the person you share your life with should be the object of your ridicule. 

It is this kind of astute insight into human, and specifically marital, behaviour which makes Flynn’s writing so brilliant.

A few quick, sharp, strokes and she has cut right through the chase of what makes men and women act the way they do.  The book has been the topic of much discussion because of the thread of hatred against women voiced by the male characters throughout the book.

And, unlike so many stories about women who go missing, where women are portrayed as hapless victims of ruthless husbands, the character of Amy (like that of Nick) is deeply flawed and not always very likeable.  Flynn is refreshingly straightforward about the need to stop treating female characters with kid gloves. “For me, (feminism) is also the ability to have women who are bad characters…the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing...”, she said in an interview with The Guardian last year.

Where she really puts her finger on the pulse of modern marriages, however, is in her accurate depiction of the expectations which men and women have of each other once they become a couple. And especially what some women expect from men. Nick and Amy during the first few years of their marriage seem to be on the same wavelength and even come up with a phrase for men who are at the beck and call of their girlfriends or wives: “dancing monkeys”.

“He comes when I call and look at how well-groomed. Wear this, and don’t wear that. Do this chore now and do this chore when you have a chance and by that I mean now. And definitely, definitely, give up the things you love for me, so I will have proof that you love me best.”

It is all so precisely, exactly, what often happens that you laugh out loud at the recognition of the scenario. 

This is not to say that Flynn lets her male character off the hook easily. In Nick, she has created someone who has relied on his good looks for far too long, always getting away with things because he could charm his way out of them, and who has now finally met his match in the beautiful, accomplished Amy.

We’ve all met these types of guys haven’t we? Fussed over by his mother and twin sister, Nick basks in the adoration of women but when he is thrust into the public eye after his wife’s disappearance, his shallow personality and inability to show real emotion don’t translate well on television.

The immediate media verdict in this age of instant judgment by TV is that he is as guilty as hell. Here too, Flynn zeroes in on our modern day obsession with reality TV as Amy’s disappearance is taken up by a man-hating tabloid journalist who is convinced Nick is guilty and who skewers him on her show with her insinuations.   

'Gone Girl' has so many twists and turns that revealing anything more will just serve as spoilers. Suffice to say that while the search for Amy continues we learn through flashbacks that the marriage which started off with such promise had begun to unravel, with husband and wife both accusing the other of having changed and not being the same person they married. “Who are you? What have we done to each other?” are the recurring questions they each ask.

They are the questions so many couples ask when they are on the brink of severing their relationship as they look over the breakfast table at the person they thought they knew, but who now seems like a complete stranger.

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