Summary: I loved it while despising it, how 'bout that?
Oh dear, I'm caught between realizing that this is one of the most inconsistent plot-and-characterization-wise books I've read in a long time - as well as one of the most entertaining stay-up-all-night-to-finish books. Hmmmm.
This book unapologetically flew through the bestsellers and awards lists like a hurricane last year, being praised for its dark nature and unexpected twist and intricate plot (a.k.a. the reasons why I apparently requested it from my library many moons ago, getting to the tail end of a 3-digit queue which finally reached me by the time I forgot I signed up for this book in the first place).
The story is the following: Nick and Amy have been married for five years, and the marriage has been strained for a while. They used to be a rich glamorous couple in New York; now they moved to Nick's home state of Missouri having lost their jobs and most of their money. Now Nick is trying to run a bar with his twin sister while Amy apparently sulks at home. And one day, on their anniversary, Amy vanishes without a trace, with her disappearance looking like a result of a foul play, and quite soon Nick finds himself a prime suspect as all the clues somehow point in his direction.
The story is told through alternating perspectives: - Nick of present time (we learn quite a bit about him being a "Nice Guy" who is drop-dead gorgeous and has serious mommy-daddy issues as well as a dazzling smile, a perfectly cleft chin and quite a few hangups about women. Oh, and he really cannot stand his wife) - and Amy through her diary entries starting seven years prior to events of present time (she is a drop-dead-gorgeous woman rich thanks to a well-known series of childhood books written by her parents and based on her - their 'Amazing Amy'. Oh, and unlike what Nick thinks of her, she appears to be - at least through her diary entries - a pathetic doormat). Eventually we get to see the perspective of present-day Amy and realize that everything we know about her is, of course, a lie.
This dual perspective provides an interesting example of unreliable narrators - Nick's and Amy's stories clash, and we know one of them - or both - cannot be completely true. Those parts are kinda awesome - it's like a ticking time bomb that you know is bound to explode.
While the investigation into Amy's disappearance continues, while Nick almost drowns in the mounting evidence against him, we are treated to (or perhaps subjected to?) ruminations on the nature of marriage, the nature of compromises, the view on the marital roles, the societal expectations of relationships and all that stuff that can be both thought-provoking and eyeroll-provoking at the same time.
Yes, there are some interesting thoughts on the nature of compromise in marriage. And on the danger of loving not a person but your idea of how they should be. And, later on, Amy's deconstruction of the 'Cool Girl that every man wants' stereotype - even though the only reason she dislikes it is because that requires HER acting contrary to her wishes. She has no problem forcing others to conform to her ideas of how they should be - as long as the end result pleases her.
But then the second half of the book comes - and the story, at least for me, took a determined steep nosedive. No, it's not the twist (and by the time you made it to the halfway mark, the 'twist' is the only logical thing that can happen at this point - but that was fine as I don't understand the obsession with 'twists' that seems to have become the norm recently). No, it's not the complete and utter unlikability bordering on repulsiveness of both Nick (a selfish whiny misogynistic man-child) and Amy (a cunning, vindictive psychopath that uses that whole doormat personality as a disguise for her revenge plan) - no, the unlikability is very well-done; I actually enjoyed that part.
No, it's a sudden lapse in characterization, the inconsistencies that pop up for the necessity of driving the plot forward - the character changes that make no sense in the frame of this story.Amy - a brilliant sociopath who plans everything to perfection, suddenly turns into an incompetent pathetic creature who easily gets robbed by chance acquiantances and is easily fooled by Nick's 'heartfelt plea' on TV - all to get her to the place the plot requires her to be, and then suddenly once again resume the role of the evil plotting genius. I mean, huh?
And Nick - a pathetic selfish creature who suddenly becomes the un-ironic self-sacrificing Nice Guy as Amy becomes the obvious villain. Seriously? Because that does not fit with Nick's characterization up until this point, and nothing happens to make him such except for the need to introduce a 'counterweight' to Amy at this point.
“My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?'
He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
But he said,'Because I feel sorry for you.'
'Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.'
NEWSFLASH, NICK: YOUR SNARKY PHRASE APPLIES TO YOU PERFECTLY AS WELL. THE TWO OF YOU DESERVE EACH OTHER. (Or dear, was *that* the point of this book???? O_O )
The first half of the book was fun and disturbing at the same time. with tension constantly building up, the satisfying frustration, and the lovely contrast of unreliable narrators, two nasty people that nevertheless bring up some quite interesting points. Based on it alone, I'd give this book 4 stars. But - ughhhh - that disappointing second half - the one with inconsistent characterization, and the twists to fit the plotting, and the ending that makes you go, "And that was it? That's why I read this? Really? The pregnancy? Dear god, just think of the monster spawn destined to be raised by this couple from hell!" - that part of the book is a 2-star at best. Lovely, lovely buildup, 'meh' and 'you're gotta be kidding me!' resolution.
What is consistent, however, is the sheer readability of this story, the page-turner quality of it, and the pretty decent writing throughout the book. How much do I wish that it ended somewhere around the 57% mark, right after the the first 'present' Amy chapter, far from the disappointing middle and end. Altogether it's a 3-star read, full of initial promise but ending on a whimper note. But at least it's a *decent* 3-star read. It's actually enough to get me interested in other works by Gillian Flynn.