Monday, May 4, 2015

Book review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

Written by: Gillian Flynn

Published: 2009

Synopsis: Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben's innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother's? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day... especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family?

“Coffee goes great with sudden death.”

When I read Gone Girl I was a little disappointed, but that was pretty much guaranteed given how much that book was raved about. I didn't hate it, I just wasn't wowed by it. So when I heard whisperings from people about Flynn's other books I was hesitant. On the one hand I had heard basically nothing about them (a marked difference from Gone Girl) which is definitely the way to go into these books, but on the other hand - do I really want to read another Gillian Flynn? 

I'm not sure what made me decide to spontaneously buy a copy of this the other day. I must have seen it mentioned on a blog or on facebook and the seed was subconsciously planted. But bought it I did, and read it I did. And I enjoyed it immensely. As seems to be my want at the moment, I keep reading books that are terrible for review content. Like Gone Girl this is a book that benefits from going into it with a fairly open mind, untarnished by reviews and discussions. But unlike Gone Girl it doesn't really have that same reliance on twists. I don't want this to be a review that's simply "this is why it's better than Gone Girl" but there are two points I want to make about why it is better than Gone Girl. Possible minor spoilers for Gone Girl up ahead. 

1. Lack of twists/insane red herrings.  
As a thriller/mystery obviously there are still a certain about of red herrings and twists in the book, but it doesn't rely on them. Instead it's a bit more of a hidden narrative, slowly uncovering new details with each chapter. The chapters alternate between a present-day account from Libby as she pokes into the case that destroyed her life and perspectives from the day leading up to the murders from both her mother and Ben's POV. The parallel narratives help to slowly build the complete picture, but the varying perspectives also mean there's plenty of opportunity for people to read into things wrong or jump to conclusions. So even though you think you've worked out a link between two people or have begun to tunnel towards the truth of the murders, the next chapter will offer another perspective which presents the same situation in an entirely new light. So it's a little red herring-y, but I felt like it was analogous to real life, the whole "there's two sides to every story" shtick.  

2. The characters 
It was only when I read this book that I was able to finally put my finger on one of my biggest problems with Gone Girl. I know everyone loves to talk about how they're both these dispicable loathesome characters that you love to hate, but I just hated them. I love a good villain and I love an anti-hero, but Nick and Amy just annoyed me. The characters in Dark Places helped me finally work out why. Gone Girl is a story of two bored middle-class adults who are unhappy in their marriage. They treat each other like garbage for no reason other than they are too lazy to divorce and start again. I never understood why they did what they did, and "they're bad people" just felt lazy. On the flipside, all of the characters in Dark Places are terrible people (on varying levels) but I felt like ther was weight to their terribleness. Libby is a thief and a liar, she's lazy, antagonistic and dismissive. Her dad is an absolute monster, a lying, thieving, drug-addicted asshole who manipulates and antagonises everyone he meets. Her brother is obnoxious and her mother is so weak willed at times I couldn't stand it. But they aren't just horrible people in a vaccum. Libby might have been a jerk and a thief even if her family had lived, but witnessing their murders (and living) has a massive impact on her personality. Her mother was pregnant at 17 and struggled to manage a failing farm, four children and an abusive husband (when he was around) - her frustration and exhaustion is entirely understandable. Ben was 15. 15 year olds suck. Now, I'm not saying that the only people who get to be assholes are people who have had a tough life but their behaviour and attitude just felt more believable and relatable than Amy and Nick in Gone Girl.

So overall I give this book a big thumbs up. I found the ending really tidy (too tidy - people who have read this, let me know what you thought in the comments) but ultimately satisfying. I'm really glad I bought this as an ebook, it makes my terrible habit of flipping towards the back of the book much harder. Even if the ending was a little clean, it's still the kind of ending you want to discover at the end of the book. If you liked Gone Girl, I'm sure you'll like this one too. If you, like me, didn't particularly love Gone Girl I'd recommend it even more. The story, like all Gillian Flynn, is absurd and soap opera-y but that's what makes it such a page turner and once I started this book, I barely put it down. 


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