How NOT to Deal With a Bad Relationship: Lessons from “Gone Girl” and “Anna Karenina”

Amy Dunne from "Gone Girl."

Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl.”

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina







I had the serendipitously synchronistic experience of reading Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” at the same time. Although the stories take place in different eras, I was amazed by the similarity of some parts — especially if you just ignore most of Tolstoy’s ramblings about farming and equality for the peasant class. (I know, how dare I say that. Insert gasp from literary community here.) Both are about bad relationships and various ill-advised ways to deal with them.

In Gone Girl, Amy (the wronged wife) decides to deal with her husband’s infidelity by faking her death and framing him for it. But she still really loves him in her twisted way, so they patch things up (sort of) and resume living together, trying to recapture the magic of their early years. But their situation is not sustainable because it’s based on manipulation and power struggles. And Amy’s husband Nick only buys into it because she leaves him no choice. Especially after she announces she’s pregnant with his child.

(I hope there’s a sequel because something’s going to blow, and it’s going to blow big! Maybe their child will be the instrument of the familial explosion. I can’t imagine a baby raised in such a twisted environment would come out unscathed.)

Anyway, in Anna Karenina, Anna is the one who has an affair, and it’s her husband Karenin who thinks that remaining together in the same house is a good idea. As long as her lover stays away and she keeps things discreet, he’s all right with Anna continuing the affair, but he wants to keep up appearances for the sake of his career and social status. Like Amy, Anna also becomes pregnant. But it’s with her lover’s child, not Karenin’s.

Of course, it’s not a sustainable situation, either, and Anna keeps looking for a solution. She thinks she’s found one when she has a premonition that she will die during childbirth. Yes – that’s the answer – don’t deal with the situation, just die and get out of it! Although she comes close to death, she survives. Then it’s her lover’s turn to think about death, but he botches his suicide and survives also.

In Gone Girl, Amy’s original plan was to commit suicide as a final act of vindictiveness after successfully framing her husband for her death. But ever the narcissist, she decides he’s not worth killing herself over.

In Anna Karenina, Anna does eventually commit suicide as the solution, even though she and her lover Vronsky are at last free of Karenin and living the high life together with their daughter. Why does she do it? Out of vindictiveness and fear. She feels the romantic love between her and Vronsky slipping. He’s actually asserting some independence and (gasp!) doing some manly things without her. She can’t handle it and throws herself under a train – mimicking an incident that happened when they first met. Thus, despite overcoming many societal struggles, their relationship implodes from within.

As mentioned parenthetically already, I expect the relationship in Gone Girl will also implode. But only if the author gets on it and writes a sequel! Does anyone know if a sequel is planned?

I suspect that a creative writing graduate student could make a good thesis topic out of comparing these two novels. And that they could do it much more thoroughly than I. Feel free to use my blog story as an outline and go for it! I just thought it was amazing that these two authors spanning so many years were essentially writing about the same thing: human nature. It apparently hasn’t changed much, although if Gone Girl is any indication, human nature may have gotten even worse.

4 thoughts on “How NOT to Deal With a Bad Relationship: Lessons from “Gone Girl” and “Anna Karenina”

      • We must be somewhat unique, I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet! I actually wrote it as my Goodreads review, but haven’t published it yet because my fiance hasn’t finished Anna Karenina, and I didn’t want to spoil anything.

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