Thoughts: Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

This was the last book of Flynn’s three famous crime novels (so far) that I had to read. I read Gone Girl on the back of a recommendation from a friend, and inhaled Sharp Objects over the course of a day and a half when I found it in a hotel room on holiday. We got Dark Places at Frankfurt’s Sneak Preview weekly cinema event, and I got to add the last one to my elitist TBR. As usual, sorry to all my friends (and Spuggy especially) who’ve heard me rave and test out lines of review on them while I was reading it.

I really enjoy Flynn’s writing. She really captures this atmosphere, of a post-economic-crash rural area that I can practically smell when I’m reading her books, though I’ve never been there. The quality of her writing is superbly evocative, particularly admirable given her use of first person narrative. She uses unusual analogies and metaphors which pierce right to the heart of the image she wants to convey.

I’m really not a crime thriller person (I dabble sometimes when The List takes me there, but I’m definitely not a particular fan) but something about Flynn’s premises is always utterly fascinating. She takes familiar scenarios and finds a new angle on them. Gone Girl is probably the most conventional in terms of premise – outwardly perfect married couple, wife vanishes, husband is prime suspect. But Flynn doesn’t focus on the detectives or police force or the men behind the curtain of crime solving. Gone Girl is from the husband’s perspective. Sharp Objects takes another familiar idea – troubled reporter investigates crimes and ends up returning too close to her own past. But the reporter’s secrets and family give it a unique, Southern (American*) Gothic tone. The twists destroyed me. Dark Places has possibly my (morbid) favourite premise. This time we’re investigating a Satanic mass family murder, but from the perspective of the lone survivor, who’s suddenly not that sure that she put the right person in prison.

I like that Flynn deals with quite specific issues in her books, and the way she does it, nuanced and wide-reaching somehow. I like her unlikeable, difficult narrators that the reader nevertheless is firmly on the side of (Gone Girl being a possible exception – I didn’t know who I wanted to win by the end because I so badly wanted them both to lose). I’m really interested in her characters in general – Flynn is not a romanticiser. She writes about the rural poor in a way that makes we who aren’t poor and who want to believe the best in everyone, uncomfortable at times.

Poverty doesn’t confer virtue, it ruins lives, like really ruins them, from the very beginning. It stunts them. And people survive, or they don’t, and if they survive it’s because they’ve seen some shit and done some shit and that lives inside them all the time, through the whole story. The financial crash affects Gone Girl and Dark Places in particular in very personal, life-changing ways, the way I don’t think I’ve really seen it talked about in other fiction but in the way it undeniably has affected millions of living, breathing people.

And those of us who want to believe the best in everything and that everything should be able to be solved simplistically and that we ought to live in a fair world and if not why not, we show up as well sort of, on the fringes, as people Flynn’s characters tolerate or despise or cope with. This sort of nuance is… pretty brutal on my bleeding heart to be honest, but in a character-building way. People are people. I don’t know, I think I’m explaining this whole thing really badly. Forgive me.

I do kind of regret reading the book after having seen the film, because I knew what to look for. But I would have regretted seeing the film after reading the book as well. In an ideal world I’d be able to do both first.

OK, Dark Places wasn’t quite perfect. The main character refers to the part of her mind where the memories of the night of her family’s massacre reside as “Darkplace”, and, well, that’s sort of already been taken. It was a bit… mood-breaking.

I’m really staying away from spoilers here, because I don’t want to accidentally rob anyone of the Dark Places experience. If you’re a fan of Flynn’s work, definitely read it (though you probably have already). If you thought Gone Girl jumped a few sharks, read Dark Places and I promise you won’t be disappointed here. If you haven’t read Flynn yet, go on, try it.


*I’m never quite at ease with the term “Southern Gothic” on its own, because I come from a country that also has a south. Is that weird?

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