David Fincher’s Gone Girl comes out October 3, which means right about now plenty of movie fans are asking themselves: Should I read the book before I see the adaptation? The answer usually varies by project — we recommend watching Game of Thrones before reading “A Song of Ice and Fire” — and in this case, our answer is an uncompromising “Yes.” You should definitely read (or reread) Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller in the scant days before the movie comes out and everything gets ruined for you. Here’s why.
(Note: We’ve tried to make this post as spoiler-free as possible, but like Nick Dunne’s internalized misogyny, some may have slipped through.)
Because it’s great.
As in a Hitchcock classic, the story logic of Gone Girl is so tight that you don’t even notice the impossible flights of fancy the books asks you to swallow. Even if you know the twists in store, there’s still a lot to enjoy, from the crackerjack plotting to the needle-sharp characterizations, to the dark notes of social satire (we’d forgotten the incredibly creepy sequence set at the mall).
Because it’s instructional.
Gone Girl is not Aesop, but there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from its pages. Our favorites: “Thinking yourself good is the easiest way to do bad,” “An easy lie can be more harmful than an unpleasant truth,” “Beware of loving the idea of someone,” and, as the denouement proves, “In marriage, one must compromise.”
Because you’ll need the ending fresh in your mind.
The saga of the Gone Girl ending has undergone more revisions than Blade Runner. First it was completely rewritten “from scratch,” then those reports were “greatly exaggerated,” then “the bone structure and the muscles” were changed but not “the marrow,” and then it was basically the same. Don’t you want to be able to examine the minutiae of the changes yourself?
Because you’ll want to reread the “Cool Girl” speech again.
The act-two monologue about “Cool Girls” has taken on such a life of its own that it’s easy to forget the words are the musings of a sociopath. Still, it’s a remarkable piece of writing, probably the best in the book. We’ve reprinted the opening here, to remind you:
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Because with our help, reading it won’t actually take that long
Not everybody has the time or the inclination to read a 400-page book in a week. And so we’re going to let you in on a little secret: It’s possible to get through Gone Girl in a matter of hours. It’s true! All you have to do is follow these instructions, which we developed late at night some months ago at a youth hostel in Venice Beach. As in our guide to catching up on Scandal, you won’t be reading every chapter, but you will be reading enough to get the general gist of what the book’s about.
Here’s what you’ll need to do. (All page numbers come from the paperback edition.)
- Read Nick’s first three chapters and Amy’s first two diary entries (through page 37). This sets up the book’s basic premise and structure: Alternating chapters of Nick Dunne discovering his wife Amy has gone missing (and maybe not reacting the way he should) and Amy’s recollections of their happy times together.
- Then read Nick’s chapter “One Day Gone” (page 57), Amy’s diary entry “July 5, 2010,” and Nick’s “One Day Gone.” This is Nick’s disastrous press conference and the initial hint of danger in Amy’s diaries, as well as the first mention of Desi Collings.
- Skip ahead to Nick’s chapter “Four Days Gone” (142). You’ll miss some of the details of Nick digging himself deeper, but in this chapter you’ll get the book’s first twist. As he says himself, “This is the part where … you stop liking me.”
- Then go to page 189 and read Nick’s “Six Days Gone” and Amy’s diary entry “June 15, 2012.” Here we learn a secret about Amy and see how bad the marriage got after the move to Missouri.
- Flip a little bit ahead to Nick’s “Seven Days Gone” (206). Here he hires a lawyer and discovers something in the woodshed. Congratulations, you’re done with act one!
- Immediately follow that with Amy’s chapter “The Day Of.” Not only do you find out what happened to Amy, you also get the “Cool Girl” speech. This is our favorite chapter in the book!
- Keep going with Nick’s “Seven Days Gone” and Amy’s “The Day Of.” In dueling chapters, both Nick and Amy put the pieces together.
- Skip a Nick chapter and go to Amy’s “Five Days Gone” (244). This brief chapter tells you where Amy is, which is basically all you need to get out of this part of the story.
- Then jump to Amy’s “Nine Days Gone” (301). You’re missing a lot of filler in the Amy plot, but this gives you the resolution you need.
- Skip more Nick and go to Amy’s “Ten Days Gone” (323). We see some Nick action through Amy’s eyes here, as well as the reappearance of Desi Collings.
- Then go to Amy’s “Twenty-Six Days Gone” (360) and follow it with Nick’s “Thirty-Three Days Gone” and Amy’s “Forty Days Gone.” These are three very short chapters featuring Nick and Amy at their lowest. You’re done with act two!
- Follow that with Nick’s “Forty Days Gone” and the Amy chapter that follows. With one more twist, we’re in the home stretch now.
- Then skip to page 401 and read until the end. Now jump online and yell at Gillian Flynn!