** SPOILERS THROUGHOUT **
Nick Dunne’s wife Amy goes missing on their fifth anniversary. And as revelations about their life come out, it looks like Nick might be the guilty party…
I did something unusual with this book: I didn’t read the teaser on the back (My wife never reads the teaser – she says it spoils the story too much for her, so I thought I’d give it a try). So I had no idea what this was about going in. None at all. I picked it up from a charity shop simply because I’d seen other people reading it on my Goodreads feeds, and I’d vaguely heard they’d made a movie about it.
During the first half, the narrative alternates between real-time Nick discovering Amy is missing and flashback diary entries from her. It’s a nice narrative split between the two of them, listening to their voices and slowly getting to know them.
It quickly becomes obvious that Nick is screwed down very, very tight and has quite a few self-worth problems and anger management issues, especially towards women. He unsurprisingly becomes prime suspect material, the reveal of which is paced quite slowly up to the middle of the book.
I didn’t believe that Nick, as angry as he is, murdered his wife at any point during the first half of the story. He seems smarter than the clumsy way the disappearance is organised, and his bemusement as to what’s going on seems genuine. But Nick admits he’s an unreliable narrator – the first time he talks to the police, he says he lied to them five times. So what is going on here? It’s the uncertainty that keeps the book moving through its slower first half. There’s a slow drip of revelations that keep things moving.
At halfway, the story rockets away into a new direction. There’s a bombshell, and what a bombshell it is: Suddenly we switch to Amy’s point of view, an Amy very much alive and very much running the show. The real Amy, not the one who wrote the fake diary we’ve been reading. And this woman is an out and out sociopath, with a steel trap of a mind to rival Hannibal Lecter. She operates and plans on levels so far above the rest of us that no one has a chance to keep up. She runs rings around the local police, the FBI and even the reader.
And what gleeful pleasure she takes in destroying Nick, of sending him to prison or even death for his transgression of taking a mistress. This is a revenge plan a year or more in the making. This is a not a woman you want to cross. Or even meet, for that matter. Nick has no chance. It’s like watching someone who runs for a bus trying to compete against an Olympic sprinter. All you can do is watch and wince as she carves Nick up.
At least at first she does. Amy has been extremely coddled her entire life, and it has its own pleasure to watch her struggle and fail in the real world and to have her backup plans fail. There are people out there crazier than her, it seems.
In the meantime, Nick has got her measure, and she eventually returns, believing him contrite and beaten. They try to outsmart each other, but after a few weeks of manoeuvring, she pulls a final rabbit from her hat: She’s pregnant and Nick decides to stay because of the child.
I read the ending yesterday, and then some reviews where they didn’t like it. The villain wins, after all. Nick is defeated because he wants to give his child a semblance of a normal life. He buckles under. It's unsatisfying. We want justice for the underdog.
Some said Nick should have been braver and stronger. In a sense I agree: Having encountered a few sociopaths in my life, I know the only winning move with them is not to play. The only path to take is away.
But then I was thinking about it again this morning. How many times has it been a woman who has buckled under because of their children? How many stay in loveless marriages – in and out of fiction – because of their child?
Does it take more courage to walk away and never see your children again, or to stay and tough it out? Which would you choose?