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Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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Flynn is one of the biggest authors of the last year, thanks to the explosion of her novel Gone Girl onto the literary marketplace two summers ago, and the recent adaptation of the novel into a feature film by David Fincher and starring both Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, which received five star reviews all around.

As I enjoyed Gone Girl I thought that I would see if Flynn's other novels matched up to the ferocious storytelling and compelling mystery that filled the pages of her best known novel.

Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, who was the sole survivor of the massacre of her mother and two sisters when she was a little girl - a crime her brother was arrested for on the basis of her testimony. The plot of the novel takes place twenty years after the event, when Libby is living on her own, surviving on the kind donations of people  who have throughout the years given money because of her unfortunate circumstances.

But the money is drying up, and with no desire to earn a living she sets on the path to discover what really happened the night her family was killed, with a group of benefactors who are obsessed with the case giving her money for her investigation.

The first thing to note about Dark Places is that for a female protagonist Libby is hardly a likeable character. She is lazy, and steals compulsively, and from the moment you meet her you realise that she is no idealised survivor or victim. She is complex, and while she is not likeable, her character and flaws are certainly compelling. Her quest to discover what happened to her family, and to find out if her brother Ben is the true culprit, becomes more than just a savvy financial move - her desire to know what happens grows as she meets the people intimately involved in the case.

Is the central mystery of Dark Places as enthralling as Gone Girl? While it didn't quite keep me hankering for the next opportunity to pick the book back up, as the plot gains momentum so does the desire to continue reading. The novel follows two dual running timelines - the day of the murders, and Libby's present day quest. Predictably, the ending is unpredictable, if you can say such a thing - the circumstances surrounding the events in1984 are far more complex than is first presented to the audience, and as the novel brings the reader closer and closer to the central event (the murders of Libby's mother Patty and sisters Debby and Michelle) the more the single  strands seem to twist together to steamroller the reader towards the event that they are simultaneously desperate to see in order to know what happens, whilst still wanting to shield their eyes from its visceral reality.

The novel explores the same question of how well you know the people around you, and has the reliability of storytelling that Gone Girl also does, but in different ways. Instead of looking at how we present ourselves to the world, Dark Places looks at how a few vital pieces of information being miscommunicated can affect rumours, perception and crime and punishment.

If you are looking for the next page turner to read then picking up Dark Places seems like a safe bet. It may not be as compulsive as Gone Girl, but it is certainly worth a read.



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