Title Dark Places
Author Gillian Flynn
Year of publication 2009
Publisher Orion Publishing (UK)
Rating 5 out of 5
We recently read this in my book club so I thought it would be a good place to start with my book reviews.
The book centres around Libby Day, the sole survivor of the ‘Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.’ While her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered, a seven year old Libby manages to climb out of the bedroom window and hide until morning. She puts the blame on her fifteen year old brother Ben and her testimony puts him behind bars. Twenty five years later she is contacted by a group of amateur detectives who are sure of Ben’s innocence. She humours them at first, mainly because she is desperate for money and they are wiling to fork over any amount of cash for information. But as she delves into the past and the night that she has been trying to block out for years, she starts to question whether she was right about what happened to her family years ago.
The book alternates between Libby’s point of view in the present day and the points of view of Patty, her mother, and Ben on the day and night of the murder. I’m a fan of this type of writing, I like the layering that switching between points of view can create. The reader finds out bit by bit what happened on the night of the murders through the different perspectives. You see the deterioration of Patty as she deals with her family’s poverty amid the realisation that her son may be tangled up in satanic rituals and worship. All she wants to do is help him and she will go to any length to do just that. Then you see how Ben’s mind becomes darker the more he tries to fit in with his girlfriend and just try to lead a normal life despite the madness going on around him. These two parallel perspectives tell of the same day and it’s interesting to see how they intertwine without actually meeting, which causes the confusion that pushes the plot forward.
This intertwining and alternating between viewpoints also shows how fantastic Flynn is at writing and developing characters. Anyone who has read Gone Girl will know how well Flynn brings her characters to life, flaws and all, and this is one of the main points that struck me and the others in my book club: There are no likeable characters in this book. Libby is a self-pitying kleptomaniac who has been living off the money donated to her by well-wishers after the murders. When that money runs out she is terrified that she will have to support herself by, dare I say it, actually getting a job. To be fair to her, she at least doesn’t try to hide these flaws; she says of herself, ‘I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult,’ and admits that her jealousy of others who have suffered and stolen her thunder, as she sees it, is a horrible thing to think. But this is an afterthought to one of her many woe-is-me style rants. She’s saying it because she knows that’s how she’s supposed to feel, not because that’s actually how she feels. Obviously she has been through a deep and horrific trauma, but she has done nothing throughout her life to try to get past it or work through it. She just feels sorry for herself and gets mad at other people when they don’t feel sorry for her too. Ben isn’t much more likeable. His narration shows him as slightly self-pitying as well, always feeling a bit hard done by. He wants to stand up for himself but he never quite manages to do it. His relationship with his girlfriend Diondra is a perfect example of this. She is constantly putting him down and he just doesn’t have the ability to argue with her. Instead he just gets angrier and angrier at himself and at everyone else. Patty isn’t like Libby and Ben. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, even though she is the one character who maybe has the right to. Out of the three perspectives we see, hers is the least loathsome, but I found it hard to root for her perhaps because we know how it ends for her. Instead of feeling like we want her to succeed we just feel sorry for her. She’s the one character not looking for pity but she’s the only one who gets it. She is in an awful situation, buried under crippling debt with four children to feed and an abusive ex husband who won’t stop hounding her for money. She’s clearly somewhat depressed, having to be physically dragged out of bed some mornings and having daydreams about dying and leaving her children with her sister, Diane. She lets Diane tell her what to do because she sees her as the strong one. But despite the fact that none of the characters are particularly appealing, this doesn’t stop this from being an amazing read. You still want to know what happens to the characters even if you don’t like them. You still care about the story. Personally I think this makes the characters more believable as people. Not everyone in real life is likeable, not everyone is a nice person. A lot of people who had gone through what these characters have gone through would feel sorry for themselves and want others to do the same. Not everyone is a hero in real life so why should they be in fiction? It’s nice to have a protagonist who isn’t trying to make the reader like her, if anything, Libby goes out of her way to make the reader dislike her. The characters in this book are real, which is necessary in a story that not everyone can relate to. This isn’t a situation that the majority of readers will have ever found themselves in, so having believable and real characters is a fantastic way to make the reader relate to the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It grabbed me from the very beginning and the majority of people in my book club agreed (we all finished the book within two weeks and had to wait not so patiently for the rest of the month so we could rave about it at the meeting). If you’re a fan of a good murder/mystery or a thriller then I would definitely recommend Dark Places. Make sure you’re okay with a bit of gore, however. There are a few scenes that are quite graphic but what do you expect from a book about satanic rituals and massacres? There was a general consensus around our book club meeting that the few descriptions of the murders themselves were something that had to be waded through in blood-proof boots . For me personally, I thought the scene with the cows was worse. I’ll let you make up your own mind. If we did have to choose something that we didn’t like about the book, and we’re clutching at straws to do it really, it’s that some people felt that the ending was disappointing. It was said that part of the ending seemed like it was tacked on at the last second to make it all tie together. Personally, I enjoyed the ending. I thought it was clever and unexpected, yet so obvious when you look back on it. There are a couple of chapters at the end that are maybe a bit superfluous, but again, I’ll let you make up your own mind. Overall I thought this book was fantastic. I’m a huge Gillian Flynn fan and reading this did nothing to stop that. I would recommend it to absolutely everybody and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.