Dark Places: Gillian Flynn, March 29—April 8, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦♦♦
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first of all. This isn’t Gone Girl, and they shouldn’t be compared. Gone Girl was a phenomenon and it would be unfair to expect that sort of gold dust twice, let alone from a book that was written years before. We must set Amazing Amy to one side and concentrate on Dark Places in its own right.
Dark Places revolves around the Day family: a mother, three daughters, an older son and a mostly-absent father. One day (pardon the pun, but the book is full of them), the son murders his mother and two of his sisters while the third escapes and testifies against him, sending him to jail. Some twenty years later, an obsessive group of sad gits tries to convince Libby Day she was mistaken, and her brother Ben is innocent.
Like Flynn’s most famous work (the one we aren’t mentioning), the chapters vary their viewpoint and time zone. They alternate between present day, and the build up to the murders in 1985. Present events are covered in the first person by Libby, while the 80s alternate again between the third person perspectives of Ben and their mother Patty.
There isn’t a likeable character to be had. Every one of them is horrid. Yes, Libby saw her family butchered when she was seven. Yes, Ben is an outsider everywhere he treads. Yes, Patti has debt and offspring coming out of her ears. But each and every character is a horrible creation, except maybe Aunt Debby. Having said that, we do find ourselves sympathising with the main characters more than we want to, Ben in particular. He through the classic awkward teenager pain (albeit as an alleged satanist/child molester/murderer) and you feel for him. You wouldn’t go for a drink with him, but you do hope that maybe someone else will have a lint with the odd soul.
The thing is… It makes everything terrifyingly real. The whole thing is just real. Real people, real poverty, even real motivation from present-day Libby: her funds are used up and the crime fanatics will buy her time. It’s creepily, engulfingly real.
This is, essentially, a whodunit. My experience with Gone Girl told me to expect a similar game changing twist that didn’t materialise, but that’s my own fault. There were plenty of unexpected developments, but the plot was linear and didn’t pretend otherwise. The writing was immersive in a quick sand sort of way: slow at first and your interest isn’t totally grabbed, but soon you’re pulled in too deeply to stop yourself.
This is, indeed, a dark novel that explores some themes that have always fascinated me: “ripples” as Lyle calls them; the butterfly effect we have. The mystery, though intriguing in its own right, is wrapped up with so much character conflict that it’s the people involved you care for most. Even if you hate them.
A fast plot with boldly unlikeable characters wrapped in an absorbing mystery, Dark Places is a story you won’t leave unfinished. Incredibly well written, it captures the voices of characters of multiple generations and in untold misery. A somewhat bleak, but wonderfully composed piece from Flynn who is becoming a modern classic.