|Date Published||03 January 2012|
It is the fifth wedding anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne but they are not to spend it together because Amy disappears. The police believe that her husband is responsible, though he denies it and they can’t prove it.
Particularly important in this novel is the structure. The story is told from two points of view – those of Nick and Amy. For the first part of the book (it is in three parts) Amy – the ‘girl’ who has now ‘gone’ - gives us her version of the reasons behind the failure of her marriage.
She does this by means of a diary, through which she as it were takes the reader into her confidence and informs him/her of her frustration and sadness as she comes finally to realise that her husband no longer loves her. This is in spite of all her efforts to rekindle a love that was once so strong, one which they both thought would last forever. This restriction to the diary format means that during the first (and longest) part of the book we learn nothing about what happened to Amy after her disappearance.
Those chapters in this part that involve Nick are essentially police procedural but by no means exclusively so. Whilst, unlike Amy, he doesn’t keep a diary, Nick’s thought processes also are presented in considerable detail and it becomes obvious that, although he can’t explain precisely why, he blames Amy for the breakdown of their marriage.
At the end of part one of the novel the diary format comes to an end and as it does so we are presented with an astonishing turn of events. So far we have been dealing with a mystery involving a woman who suddenly disappears. But perhaps just as intriguing to the reader is another mystery - that of precisely why Amy’s husband began to behave as she says and why she had to take precautions to protect herself against him. In part two these questions are answered and the sense of mystery is replaced by a tension that lasts until the very last page. Great attention is paid to the overall construction of the novel and its success is undeniable.
The book is, of course, both a thriller and, perhaps rather more successfully, a mystery. Both aspects are sustained by a series of very unexpected events which appear totally uncontrived. What makes the novel different, however, is the very serious examination of a happy marriage that begins to go wrong and suddenly disintegrates.
There are really only two characters of any depth, Nick and Amy, and it soon becomes obvious to us (although not, unfortunately to them) that they are seriously damaged. Nick was brought up by an uncaring father and a mother unable to compensate. On the other hand, Amy’s parents, both with advanced degrees in psychology, had confused their child with ‘amazing Amy’ – the heroine of the children’s book series that they co-authored – to such an extent that she herself had begun to base her own behaviour on that of the fictional child and had lost the capacity simply to be a normal person.
The Amy with whom Nick falls in love is not, therefore, the real one. He admits that, “I often don’t say things out loud, even when I should.” Whilst he can feel fear and despair, his upbringing prevents him from expressing these emotions. With one partner no longer able to pretend and the other incapable of communicating, the marriage fails inevitably. Amy can tell her diary how much she loves her husband (“I am fat with love … obese with devotion.”) He does much more than make her happy – he makes her complete, but this, unfortunately for their relationship, remains merely a diary entry.
The writing itself is inventive and original. Nick is a writer and it is possible to see in some of his comments the flair for observation that a writer needs. He regards the picking out of appropriate clothes when a loved one goes missing as an interesting subject for an essay. When a cop is questioning him and pulls up a chair on which he then sits backwards Nick wonders whether cops had always done that or whether they had learned the habit from watching actors do it.
Apparently, the director of the film version currently being made asked for a different ending. Presumably, assuming audiences would not appreciate the irony, he wanted something a little more cinematic. The author knew better and the ending she came up with was entirely appropriate in the sense that things have come full circle and, although much has happened, little has actually changed.
This is a thoroughly entertaining novel – thrilling, thoughtful, full of surprise and, above all, intelligent.
Reviewed 23 August 2014 by Arnold Taylor