This is a very addictive book. A large part of its appeal is that one never knows who to believe – Nick or Amy. What was your inspiration for the story?
As Nick says at one point: marriage is one long he-said-she-said story. In this case, a very dark he-said-she-said story. I liked the idea of duelling narrators, and unreliable narrators at that. Because, ultimately, we are all unreliable narrators of our own life stories and of our marriages. I was playing with that, saying, ‘No one knows what goes on in other people’s marriages,’ and taking it to the extreme: do you know what goes on in your own marriage?
A lot of your readers love the book but found Nick and Amy ‘loathsome’. Why did you decide to write about two people with so little to redeem them?
I think likeability is overrated. I want my hairdresser to be likeable. I want my drinking buddy to be likeable. I want my cat to be likeable. I don’t necessarily need characters to be likeable. I need them to be interesting. For Gone Girl to work, I had to create characters who would actually get themselves into this incredibly awful situation. And good, well-mannered, morally centred people wouldn’t create the mess that Nick and Amy did. That said, I personally don’t find them loathsome. I find them deeply flawed and perhaps a dash mad. But I liked writing them, and I found them very interesting, and I think they are believable enough that most readers will find something of themselves in one of them. They are both persuasive, manipulative people (most writers usually are!), and so when the readers were with Nick, I wanted them to feel for Nick a bit, and when they were with Amy, I wanted them to find themselves siding with Amy. Even as nasty as they are!
It is tempting to ask if you actually know people like this; you go so deep and we become so immersed in their darkness that I wonder if they are based on reality?
Thank goodness Nick and Amy just come from my own rather creepy imagination. Certainly, they each have bits of me in them: Nick was a former pop-culture journalist; I was a writer and critic for Entertainment Weekly, covering TV and movies for ten years. Nick and I are both kids from the Midwest who went to New York with a bit of a chip on our shoulders. With Amy I share a love of extensive and complicated to-do lists. My to-do list is, obviously, less disturbing than hers. I am also married, so I understand the nuances of a long-term relationship, although I took pains to leave my own, very happy marriage safely out of Nick and Amy’s clutches.
Readers have mentioned a lack of moral compass in Gone Girl. Both main characters are slimeballs, but we preferred Nick to Amy. Did you?
I preferred whichever character I was writing at the time. I think as a writer you have to have empathy with your characters, no matter what awful things they do. I think readers can sense if an author doesn’t like her characters – because the writing isn’t as good. They are indeed both guilty. Amy is guilty of a more active immorality, but I think Nick is guilty of the immorality of omission and inaction. His may be more difficult to point a finger at, but it’s still fairly devastating. But yes, if we’re using the beer test, I’d rather have a beer with Nick. Amy might try to poison me.