Since its publication in 2012 and its film adaptation in 2014, eager readers have been on the hunt for more exhilarating books like Gone Girl to keep them on their toes.
Gone Girl is one of those unique novels that are full of characters that are all deeply flawed, most of which are utterly unlikable by the story’s end. The book begins with the disappearance of Nick’s wife Amy and the investigation that leads towards Nick being the culprit.
The twist, of course, that Amy orchestrated the whole thing, turns the one character you can seemingly sympathise with into a villain, and though you’re appalled by the lengths she goes to in order to frame Nick, the passages from Amy’s point of view are fascinating, and one can’t help but be intrigued by her motives. Some of the best novels examine characters like Nick, who the reader can’t help but condemn for his slimy infidelity, and Amy, who is clearly a psychopath.
The books like Gone Girl below examine equally unlikable or elusive characters, just like in Gillian Flynn’s novel, and though some are more flawed than others, some evil whilst others are damaged from past traumas, each protagonist in these novels is what makes the novel as good as it is.
9 Books like Gone Girl
The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
A.J. Finn examines the interesting fear known as agoraphobia in his novel The Woman in the Window. It is somewhat a thriller, similarly to Gone Girl, although the protagonist is not so much a villain, as a woman who made a terrible mistake and paid a horrific price for it.
Anna Fox is a child psychologist who, due to some initially unknown trauma, is now trapped in her home by her own mind. Anna spends her days watching old movies and getting execrably drunk, whilst also watching her neighbours as a form of entertainment.
When the Russells move in next door, Anna befriends the mother, Jane, and her son Ethan, a connection to the outside world she does not otherwise have. However, when she witnesses a violent occurrence in the Russells’ home, Anna must try to overcome her fears – but is it already too late?
Anna isn’t a terrible person, but she makes some serious mistakes in this novel that don’t make her the easiest protagonist to follow along with – often you are screaming at her to act or to not trust someone.
Anna’s story is however worthy of the read, and though the reader may not entirely understand her, just as in books like Gone Girl with main characters such as Nick and Amy, there is a desire regardless to see where her story ends.
Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books like The Woman in the Window!
The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
The Post-Birthday World is not a thriller – in fact, it is at times a slow burn, but it is written incredibly well and there is certainly a yearning to know how the story is going to conclude.
When Irina begins to fancy another man who is not her long-term partner, a sort of butterfly effect occurs where she lives out two lives, one in which she stays with her safe, somewhat boring boyfriend Laurence, and one in which she risks it all to be with the exciting snooker player Ramsey.
Each chapter goes back and forth between the two worlds, and Irina reaps the benefits and the consequences of both decisions, in a novel that classically shows that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Irina, like Anna, and unlike Amy, isn’t a bad person – in many ways, the length and depths this novel goes to depicts exactly why Irina is who she is and wants what she wants, but the reader cannot help, in both versions of her life, to get angry with her and inevitably choose which side they would have taken if they were her.
When she is happy in each world, the reader knows that a fall is coming, and can’t believe Irina is so oblivious to it, making it all the more crippling when it does happen. Just as in novels like Gone Girl, these characters are deeply flawed, and they continuously hurt one another, just like Nick and Amy do.
Lying in Wait, by Liz Nugent
Liz Nugent’s speciality is creating characters you loathe but are unable to tear away from. Their cruelties and failings are what make for such interesting stories, and in some ways, novels with main characters like these are a breath of fresh air. It can be exhausting and cheesy to constantly root for the good guy.
Lying in Wait follows the Fitzsimons, a wealthy family who get wrapped up in a sinister murder. Lydia and her husband try to keep their secret hidden from their son but eventually, he comes to learn what happened the fateful night where Annie Doyle died, and the consequences of such a terrible act eventually claim any semblance of a normal life for any of the Fitzsimons.
Lydia is the perfect villain – she has no guilt or shame in what she’s done; her only fear is that one day she may be caught. The lengths she goes to in order to keep it a secret, what she is willing to do to her own family, is appalling, and fascinating, and if she wasn’t every bit as evil as she is in the novel, it would almost certainly not be as enjoyable of a read.
Like in Gone Girl, you feel wrong to be rooting for Amy, but you cannot stop, as you know when she is caught, the story is over. Lying in Wait is one of those novels where you hope the end never comes.
A Ladder to the Sky, by John Boyne
John Boyne’s novel A Ladder to the Sky is unputdownable. It reaches a special part in every writer’s soul, as it portrays the lengths people will go to in order to be considered the best. When another writer succeeds, there is a dark, unspeakable jealousy in the pits of all the other writer’s stomachs, that wishes they’d done it first or believes they could do it better if only given the opportunity.
Maurice is such a character, but he takes it a step further – he acts on this jealousy. Maurice is a charming young man who uses his wit and flattery in order to infiltrate the lives of those he thinks can further his career.
He is a man who has a talent for writing, but none for storytelling, and once he realises this, he chooses his first victim, Erich Ackermann, an author with a fascinating history that Maurice selects to exploit.
The novel continues to show us Maurice’s life and career, and all the people who fall victim to his charms, and though you detest the decisions Maurice makes, and indeed cannot sympathise with him – he is the definition of a sociopath – the story is so gripping. Like in Gone Girl, there is no option to stop reading.
The Chain, by Adrian McKinty
Adrian McKinty’s novel, The Chain, is full of unlikable characters. Even the protagonist, Rachel, turns into someone you begin to hate at times, despite her past traumas.
The Chain is an organisation that enlists people to become kidnappers and sometimes murderers. One morning, teenager Kylie is kidnapped by two people in ski masks and held prisoner. Her mother Rachel is phoned by the kidnappers and told that unless she kidnaps a child too, Kylie will be killed, and a new target will be chosen. In order to get Kylie back, Rachel must become a criminal.
The novel explores how far a mother is willing to go to get her child back, and how no one is immune to becoming a felon if the price is high enough. Rachel learns how evil she can become if it means getting her daughter back and shocks herself with the crimes she commits in order to do so.
The Chain must continue, and even when you get your child back, you’re never really safe. Although it is very clear why Rachel behaves the way she does, the reader cannot help but dislike her at times, and anyone she comes into contact with despite the terrible circumstances they’re apart of.
Just as in books like Gone Girl, extreme actions create extreme reactions, and Rachel must forget who she believed she was before if she hopes to survive The Chain.
Devotion, by Madeline Stevens
Devotion is a seductive novel that enchants the reader, much as the protagonist is charmed by her new employers. Ella is a young woman who up until she gets a babysitting job with a wealthy family in New York, only eats in exchange for sex and meaningless interactions with men.
She seems lost and her only ambition is to make enough money to be able to survive, but when she meets Lonnie and James, she finds newer desires she never had before. Becoming their child’s nanny changes the course of Ella’s life and has her making questionable decisions and crossing lines she ought not to cross.
Her obsession with their rich lifestyle, but more specifically what Lonnie has, which is the desire of her husband and his best friend, becomes unhealthy quickly, leading to a disturbing and devastating climax to the novel, that leaves the reader feeling slimy for having borne witness to it.
Like in Gone Girl, similarly to how Amy is devoted to Nick, in a twisted way that is hardly understood by the novel’s end, Ella is devoted to Lonnie, and though she often recognises how unhealthy this is, she cannot tear herself away from this adopted family, and its secrets.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
The novel We Need to Talk About Kevin is full of characters who are deplorable, just as in other books like Gone Girl. The story is told in the voice of Eva, who is writing to her husband after the fact, that their son was involved in a mass shooting at his school.
Although you can certainly sympathise with Eva – she seems to be a woman who was tricked into motherhood, and never really wanted it – there are times you cannot help but shake your head at how she tries to handle her son Kevin. From the beginning, Kevin is a problematic child, and something just seems to be missing – a level of empathy for other people.
Eva struggles to negotiate her relationship with the son she never really wanted, and there’s a serious theme of nature versus nurture in this novel as the reader tries to decide whether Kevin was born evil, or he was somehow able to sense Eva’s disdain for him and reacted as such.
It is complicated, and though Eva is very unlikable, by the novel’s end, you cannot really blame her for the actions of her son, as it is very clear she has taken on the guilt he does not seem to exhibit.
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn creates characters like are deeply flawed, and Dark Places‘ Libby is no exception. She’s been through extreme hardship – when Libby was only a child, she was witness to the murder of her entire family by the hands of her brother, where she and he were the only survivors.
While Ben went to prison, put away due to Libby’s testimony, Libby’s life is dark and when she eventually runs out of sympathy money, she must find a new way of making a living. When she meets with Ben in prison, something clicks with her that makes her suddenly unsure of his guilt, and it is a feeling she is unable to shake no matter how much she tries to.
Eventually, her curiosity gets the better of her and she finds herself investigating the massacre herself. Libby, though she’s been through something unimaginable, has turned into a selfish and greedy woman, which can be understood, but makes her no less unlikable.
It is difficult to root for her, but that is perhaps what makes the novel so great – instead of making Libby this great person who turned her suffering into something positive, she is a woman is has been traumatised seemingly beyond repair, and very much continues to feel the aftershocks of this.
There’s a degree of truth to it that is often lacking in other novels. Flynn proves, like in other books like Gone Girl and Dark Places, that protagonists that are flawed often make for the best stories.
Love Gillian Flynn novels? Check out our list of books like Sharp Objects!
Skin Deep, by Liz Nugent
Liz Nugent is very similar to Gillian Flynn in her writing style, and in the characters she creates. Skin Deep depicts the life of one of the most disgraceful characters I’ve read in recent years. Delia grew up in rural Ireland in a violent household, and when she divulges a family secret to her father one day, she accidentally dooms her mother and brothers, and in turn, herself.
Delia is then passed from household to household, where she crafts her art of deception and cruelty and perfects it in order to manipulate everyone around her. The Delia that opens the novel is an adult, fleeing the scene of a crime, one where it is unclear if she was a victim or a criminal, and the rest of the novel is about reaching this pinnacle time in her life, where her lies finally catch up to her.
Delia and Gone Girl’s Amy have a lot in common – they’re both manipulative and selfish, although Amy does seem to have some feelings, however fickle, whilst Delia does not. As in books like Gone Girl, you both root for the evil characters, whilst also wishing for their eventual demise. If you loved Gone Girl, then Skin Deep is a must-read.
These books like Gone Girl are made better for their unlikable characters – often protagonists such as these are much more complex than the expected “good guys.”
Gone Girl would not be half as good if Amy turned out to truly be the devoted wife who went missing, just as these novels would struggle to be gripping without characters that find themselves making appalling decisions for one reason or another.
Are you looking for more books like Gone Girl? Have any suggestions that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!