Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

5886881Title: Dark Places

Author: Gillian Flynn

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Release Date: May 5th, 2009

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club…and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Dark Places is, like the title leads to believe, a dark book. It’s also very unsettling, and halfway through reading, a frightening feeling had crawled up on me, most unexpected since I don’t usually get scared from these types of books. Gillian Flynn uses words like a poet, describing the story in great detail, sketching the scenes in a way that makes you feel inexplicably involved, and sometimes even responsible. The characters aren’t easy people to like, and normally unlikeable characters work on my nerves, but that wasn’t the case here. Libby Day, the main character, is very open and honest aout her dark side, about the parts of herself she hates. Like how she’s still stuck in that phase between being a child and an adult, both in terms of how she looks and personality. How she’s jealous of the latest girl who lived through a family tragedy, because now all the attention and charity money goes to her instead of Libby.

It’s obvious from the get-go with her somewhat detached, distant personality, that Libby Day would be a hard character to like. The author does little in terms of making us like her, and yet somehow, I couldn’t help but rooting for Libby. Even though I loathed her personality, her greediness, how she used the tragedy in her advantage, it was obvious that most of this could be brought back to what happened that faithful night of January 2nd, 1985, when Libby’s mother and two sisters Michelle and Debby were murdered. That night, Libby escaped, but she didn’t escape unharmed. There’s some physical damage, but the largest part of it is emotional damage. Even after so many years, Libby can’t stand to look at memorabilia of her mom and sisters.

Ben Day, the one charged with hte murders, Libby’s older brother who she pointed an accusing finger to after the murders happened, is even more unlikeable. Back in 1985, he was your typical teenager, rebelling against everyone, who hated his mom and her habits even though she did everything she could to help her family, who hated his little sisters – except Libby who he kind of liked for some reason – and who hung out with the drug-addict crowd interested in scary, strange stuff. Ben was even more unlikeable than Libby, mostly because his unlikeableness started way before the murders. He was an ignorant, idiotic teenager so far away from the right path that I doubt he could’ve been helped. On top of that, his behavior after the murders is stupid as well. I didn’t like the way he treated Libby when she came to visit him at all. I understand being angry because she gave a false testimony – but she was seven, and it wasn’t like he ever tried to clear his own name. No, Ben definitely didn’t make it on my like list.

But then again, neither did any of the secondary characters. This book left me feeling drained because it showed all the negativity in the world. Lyle, a guy who runs the “Killer Club” and helps Libby find out more about the murders, borders between despicable and meh. I wasn’t sure what his angle was, and never fully understood him either. Runner, Libby’s father, is flat out unlikeable. Patty is probably the most likeable of all the characters. The more I found out about her, the more I liked her and I started feeling really bad about how she died. Patty is Libby’s mom, by the way. She wasn’t very good at providing for her family, but at least she tried, giving it everything she could, and she kept going on no matter how tough life was on her. She loved her children, which is ovbious from all her actions. I liked her the most of all characters.

Then, halfway through the book, I realized I didn’t care that I disliked the main characters, and even most of the secondary ones. The novel gives a very nihilist experience in that way, almost like reading Les Misérables. There’s nothing fun or joyful about reading this book, instead it drains your emotions and leaves you feeling haggard, empty. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad reading experience – it’s rare that a novel succeeds in giving us barely any pleasure while reading, not from the plot, which grows more grim with every turned page, nor from the characters. I thought it was an interesting, thought-provoking, dark book to read, but also depressing, but in a somewhat-good way. It showed me a darker side of humanity, and kept me interested in the plot while providing unlikeable characters.

The plot itself was intriguing and from the moment I started reading, I wanted to find out what happened that night Libby’s family was murdered. The occassional flashbacks were good, even though I thought the ones from Ben’s POV seemed a bit exaggerated, like how he got accused of being a paedophile even though he kissed a girl only four years younger than him (Ben being 15, the girl 11). And how the accusations spread so quickly without any real evidence. The book tied up neatly at the end, revealing a shocking twist of events I had only somewhat-seen coming.

The writing was beautiful, the descriptions spot-on, and the plot was intriguing. An excellent read, but a depressing one, and a book probably better not read if one is feeling down, or when the weather is gloomy.


  1. K. Griffiths says

    Thanks very much for a very evocative review. Will have a look for this one!

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