Wow. Each time I read a Gillian Flynn novel I come away feeling shell shocked, purely from the dark, sinister workings of her story lines. Dark Places was up there for me in most messed up stories of all time. Who would ever know from looking at a picture of Gillian Flynn, a normal looking mother of two, that she would have such a morbid and sinister imagination. I found her utterly fascinating as a author, and she really encompasses the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’.
Onto the story itself, the book begins by giving us a look into the dismal and depressing life of the main character of Libby Day. And as with all Flynn’s characters, this one has huge issues, namely that of being the sole survivor of her family’s massacre when she was only seven years old. A massacre that took the lives of her mother, and two sisters, each killed by an even more grisly death than the first. Despite all this, Libby managed to escape. The massacre was seemingly as a result of a satanic ritual, and the culprit behind it….none other then Libby’s older brother Ben, who has been imprisoned since this fateful day doing life for murder. It is slowly revealed also that Libby herself had aided prosecutors in putting Ben in jail as they apparently coached her into saying what they wanted her to say.
Fast forward twenty five years and the main character Libby is now thirty one, living an absolute shamble of a life, living off the proceeds of a charitable donations that were set up in her name all those years ago. However now the money has run out and now Libby must learn to fend for herself. The reader is faced with the harsh reality of Libby’s life, she is not a likeable character at all, she lives alone with her cat, has a drinking problem and has an urge to steal things from others on a regular basis. She is a social pariah who doesn’t know how to act around people, and this coupled with her horrific past, causes her to become quite the outcast, not fitting in wherever she goes. Libby has lived off other people’s money for so long that she doesn’t even know how to go about getting a job and feels anger and jealousy towards other missing women cases where as she sees it ‘her’ money is now being directed towards. There are no qualms about it, Libby is an appaling human being.
Faced with poverty she finds an unlikely savior in a young man named Lyle. Lyle is a member of a group of people who have an interest in macabre crimes such as Libby’s family’s massacre. The club itself is named ‘The Kill Club’ and its members have so much of an interest in Libby’s past, that they are willing to pay Libby money for memorabilia belonging to her dead family. Yes, these characters are deeply deeply disturbing. Libby seeing this club as her new lifeline, gladly begins to transact with the club passing over old notes given to her by her dead sisters (not morbid at all) to the club for a couple hundred dollars. This is all easy money to Libby of course who doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid in handing over these precious memories to complete strangers.
However a certain branch of the club (a group of deluded women to be exact) are convinced Libby’s brother was innocent of the crimes he was convicted for and confront Libby on her role in incarcerating her brother. Faced with the harsh truth that she could have been used by prosecutors and her memory of the events from that fateful night might actually be completely untrue, Libby soon becomes deeply embroiled in solving her family’s grisly murders. If it wasn’t her brother that killed her family, then who was it?
The book switches between characters and time frames quite effectively. Beginning with Libby in the present day but flashing back to the day of the murders in the points of view of her brother Ben, the suspected murderer, and also their mother and the events that led up to the shocking climax of events that night. Through each of the characters, the reader is left gripping their seat as they try to figure out ‘who did it’ and ‘why’. It is not predictable in any way at all, and each character is just as messed up as the first that the reader will often find themselves wishing they could throw the book at the wall in frustration with these horrible people. Yet you will not be able to put the book down.
What really shocked me in this novel, is the portrayal of the women. We have Libby who is a mess of a woman, who is dependent on people’s charity and cannot form a healthy relationship/friendship with any one. Then we have other female characters who are prostitutes, liars, druggies, attention seekers, blackmailers and the list goes on and on. Never before have I read a book where women were such horrible creatures, but maybe that’s what makes this novel so refreshing. It is not after all the men you have to watch out for, but the women!
There are so many twists and turns in this novel and so many ghastly events that make you feel as if you should feel guilty for reading anything this atrocious, and yet somehow you come out at the end of the reading experience, feeling exhausted yes, but also feeling like your eyes have been truly opened for the first time. Flynn is an excellent writer in this regard, she is not afraid of social norms, the killer is always someone you least expect, never the typical villain but someone who is the wallflower, the innocent turned evil. It is a truly amazing reading experience. It is not an easy read at all in terms of its graphic nature for example the gruesome animal killings and even the family murders described in such detail you feel out of breath by the end of the story.
This book is definitely not for the fainthearted. That is for sure. You will experience a roller coaster of emotions including absolute distress at some parts of the novel. With Gone Girl I found I didn’t really care what happened to the characters at the end as they were so utterly detestable, and with ‘Dark Places’ they are equally as disturbing. However the story is so riveting and Flynn really knows how to reel you in that you will be hooked from beginning to end. It is also so hard nowadays for me personally to find a book where I can’t guess whats going to happen next so for that reason it really appealed to me. It is cold and calculated read, but by God am I awaiting Flynn’s next novel with excitement.
My final verdict, it is well worth a read if you’re looking for something different and if you have a strong constitution for gorey details! It certainly won’t disappoint!
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The Busiest Bee 🙂