Working with a novel - Gone Girl

For help with literary terms, see "Enjoying fiction: literary analysis" in Toolbox.

Getting started

The novel Gone Girl by Gyllian Flynn is a mystery novel and a psychological thriller; that is, it is rooted in how people – particularly the main characters – think, as well as act. So let us begin there. Work with the following question: What makes a good mystery?

mystery

  • Think back over mystery novels or thrillers you have read or movies you have seen during the last couple of years. Pick out two of your favorites and prepare to explain why you thought they were so interesting.
  • Make a group of three and exchange favorites. Do you have any in common? Have you all read or seen each other’s?
  • Do the novels and films you have talked about have anything in common in terms of theme or characters or plot?
  • Come up with a list of what you think are basic and necessary things a mystery novel must have to be exciting and then compare your list with another group’s.
  • Finally, write your lists up on the board and find out how much you all have in common. Anything to add?

 

Read Part One of the novel and then work with some of the following questions in group (pp. 3-215, 2012 hardback edition)

  1. Do you think that Nick has killed Amy? Why/Why not?
  2. What do you think of Nick? Describe his character.
  3. What do you think of Amy? Describe her character.
  4. Who do you like better, Nick or Amy? Why?
  5. How does the author create a feeling of tension in the first part of this novel; what is the mystery and what are we told about it?
  6. What do you think is going to happen in the rest of the book?  

Now read the rest of the novel before working further.

 

General

  1. What did you find most surprising and unexpected about this thriller?
  2. How successful was the author in managing to keep you guessing? How did she do this?
  3. Compare what you thought of Nick and Amy in Part One with what you think of them now. Has anything changed? What?
  4. Go back to “Getting Started” and compare the list you made of basic and necessary things a mystery novel must have with what you have found in Gone Girl. Did it match the things in your list? Did it miss anything? Do you wish to add anything to your list now?
  5. It is one thing to be entertained by a book. It is another thing to like it. Did you like this book? Did you walk away thinking that this was a worthwhile piece of literature to have read, or is it just a good time (or a bad time, if you actually disliked it)?


Characters

Discuss in groups of three.

  1. How believable are the characters in this novel? Did you feel you got to know them very well? Do you think you would like to actually meet them? Why?
  2. How do we learn about the main characters in this novel; that is, from what sources are we given information about them? Describe how they change in the course of the novel, if at all.
  3. Nick describes Amy and Amy describes Nick. Which of the two portraits do you believe is the most accurate? Why?
  4. There are a number of secondary characters in the novel. Pick the one from the list below who you feel you got to know best and then explain what role they played in the action of the novel. If the character who most caught your attention is not on the list, add them to it and work from there.
  • Desi Collins
  • Ellen Abbott
  • Tanner Bolt
  • Bill Dunne
  • Margo Dunning
  • Andie Hardy

 

Plot

Work in pairs.

  1. Working alone, write a brief plot summary of the novel and the most important events. Then read each other’s summary. Where do you differ? What do you feel you should have included, and where do you feel you say too much?
  2. In a mystery novel there are often “turns of plot” in which new knowledge gives new and sudden insight into the action of the book. What are the most important “turns of plot” in this novel?
  3. In most mystery novels the plot is neatly summed up at the end, with questions answered and the future clear. How does Gone Girl end? Why did the author choose to end it this way, do you think?

 

Theme

Work alone first, and then find a partner. Discuss your work together

Below you will find some suggested themes found in Gone Girl. Arrange them in the order of most important to least important in your opinion. Then pick one of them and explain how the author has worked with it in the novel. If the theme you would like to work with is not on this list, add it and work with it.

  • Lying and betrayal
  • Gender roles (how to be a woman or a man)
  • Manipulation of information in the mass media
  • Crime and punishment
  • Marriage
  • Love and hate

love hate

 

Setting

Discuss in groups of three.

  1. Why is the contrast between New York and North Carthage important for the motivation of the characters in this novel?
  2. How does the novel capture the feel of the economic recession going on in America, the shutting down of industries and the loss of jobs? Why is this important for the development of the story?
  3. On the basis of what you have read, how would you describe North Carthage to someone who has never been there?
  4. Do you think that it would have made any difference to Nick and Amy’s marriage if they had stayed in New York?

 

Writing techniques

Writing is a craft. Discuss the following questions about the writing of Gone Girl.

  1. How did the author gain your trust, and then how did she use that trust to trick and surprise you?
  2. The author has chosen to allow the two main characters of the novel to speak in the first person (the “I” voice). What advantages does this give her in a mystery novel?
  3. What did you think of the fact that Nick and Amy are given alternate chapters? Did you find this entertaining or just confusing or irritating? Why did the author arrange the story this way?
  4. Why has the author divided the novel into Part One and Part Two – or to put it another way, how do the two parts relate to one another?

 

Essay questions

1) Write an essay about Gone Girl in which you take your point of departure in one of the quotes from the novel below:

  • “There's a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.”
  • “It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.”
  • “Because isn’t that the point of every relationship: to be known by someone else, to be understood? He gets me. She gets me. Isn’t that the simple magic phrase?”
  • “We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.
  •  “Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”

         

2) Critics talk about the book being full of dark humor and witty insights. Find a passage from the book that you think fits this description and write an essay explaining how the author has created this impression.

3) Some people think that this novel is distasteful because it shows some of the worst sides of humanity. Write an essay in which you either make a case for this perspective or against it.

4) Write a brief account of what happened in this novel from the perspective of a minor character in the book – for example, Margo or Tanner Bolt. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to be telling the truth when you tell the story. After all, who did?