Celebitchy Book Club: ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn

Hand with a knife

I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn AFTER I read Flynn’s Gone Girl. I couldn’t help but compare the two books side-by-side, although Flynn wrote Dark Places three years before Gone Girl. For my money, Gone Girl is the more compelling story and the way she told that story was a great mindf—k. As for Dark Places, you can tell that she’s trying to screw with your mind, and while there are parts which are creepy as hell, it just didn’t have the overall creepiness and OMG-ness of Gone Girl.

Dark Places plays fast and loose with the narration, but the bulk of the book is narrated by Libby Day, the only survivor of a horrific attack that took her mother’s life and the lives of Libby’s two sisters. Libby’s brother Ben went on trial for the murders and he is sitting in jail as present-day Libby (who is in her 20s) narrates the story. The days leading up to the murders are told in flashbacks by 1980s Ben (then a teenager) and Patty Day, the family matriarch.

Once the flashbacks finally came up to the Zero Hour of the night of the murder, I have to admit that I was pretty let down by what actually happened in the Day house and who really committed the crimes. But… I sort of enjoyed the exquisite creepiness of present-day Libby playing half-assed detective and getting in over her head in short order. She was sort of like a really sleazy, grown-up Nancy Drew who spends a lot of time interviewing strippers and hanging out with murder groupies. Libby managed to be clever and resilient, but not necessarily likeable.

Would I recommend this book? Well, Bedhead recommended it to me because I enjoyed Gone Girl so much, but I have to admit that Flynn’s writing style is an acquired taste. Gone Girl is just a stronger book overall but Dark Places is good if you’re interesting in seeing how Flynn developed her voice and how she develops her stories. By the last quarter of Dark Places, the narration jumps were tedious though. So, I would sort of recommend it, but only if you enjoyed Gone Girl and creepy books like that.

Bedhead’s take: Gillian Flynn never disappoints me. She paints a vivid scenery of characters, and you can taste the grit inside each scene. Dark Places‘ Libby Day was my least favorite of Flynn’s female protagonists (Amazing Amy from Gone Girl was a terrible person, but she had spunk and drive). Flynn still created a compelling set of neuroses for her hero to dig through in this book. Libby lives in her own bubble for many years until a need for cash drives her into the arms of a group seeking answers. She’s a complex yet selfish character and would be profoundly unlikeable if we didn’t know what she’d been through as a child. The fact that we root for Libby in spite of her selfishness is to Flynn’s credit.

The book’s twist on how the murders happened was both frightening yet utterly realistic. The notion that a mother would feel desperate enough to subject her own family to such a fate was terrifying. Also haunting? Ben’s acquiescence in keeping Diondra and her daughter’s existence a secret. Gillian Flynn is a master at weaving a story that keeps people guessing until the very end. I enjoyed Dark Places so much even though it was a heart-shattering book. This was like a Darren Aaronofsky movie for me: I appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship, but I’d never be able to read it again.

Celebitchy’s Take: I don’t normally read crime novels so this could be part of the reason I found the book lacking overall. While the plot was interesting and kept me reading on, I didn’t care about the characters and found them unlikeable, with the exception of Libby’s mom, Patty. Even the children were bratty. I had little sympathy for the lead character, Libby, and wouldn’t have minded if she was killed.

Flynn is a deft writer who who weaves a story that keeps you hanging and reading on, but I found the conclusion improbable and not worth the payoff. What’s more is that the mother, who was my favorite character up until the end, made a reckless decision that would have truly devastated her children, even if her plan would have gone off without a hitch. Somehow Flynn managed to ruin the good will I had for that single character. Again, I’m not a fan of crime books (with the exception of Grisham) and I steer clear of CSI and Law and Order type shows. If you enjoy that genre, you may like this story.

Our next book club selection is The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown. It’s several years old, but it’s a great take on Princess Diana’s life and how she fought the royal family. We’ll discuss the book on May 18th!

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53 Responses to “Celebitchy Book Club: ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn”

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  1. manda says:

    I really enjoyed the book, as I knew I would, because I also liked gone girl and sharp objects. Gillian Flynn really knows how to write crazy/crappy people!

    I was really just heartbroken the entire time for ben. Yes, he was an asshole and a crappy kid, but he was like 15. He was having issues and unfortunately, started running with the worst possible people. I was getting so upset with him for taking all that crap from diondra, just letting her treat him badly, which I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t know people in similar situations. That doesn’t explain, totally, for continuing to keep the secret years on, but that was how I felt for him during the flashback scenes.

    I thought the ending was an interesting twist. I thought it was cool how the murderer was mentioned at the beginning at the crime convention thing, and then the farmer that died in his silo was mentioned at one point when Patty was struggling with finances, and how it all came together in the end. In general, I thought that crime convention thing was cool too, and wikipedia’d at least one of the crimes mentioned, which was true.

    On a side note, I think I read that charlize theron is playing libby day in the movie. Isn’t that sort of funny? The description of the character, just body type, is totally off.

    • bettyrose says:

      Gah?! Charlize Theron?? She could maybe play the mother in the flashbacks (with a little body padding to resemble the mother more) or even better the aunt, but she’s not right for adult Libby. Eh, well, Charlize has done some work in which she completed transformed herself physically, so who knows?

  2. KENNEDY says:

    I’ve read DARK PLACES, GONE GIRL, AND SHARP OBJECTS – and I still think SHARP OBJECTS is by far the best of the three. However, all three are great mind f-ks.

    • Lilo says:

      I agree. Nobody talks about Sharp Objects, it’s all about Dark Places and Gone Girl. I loved Sharp Objects, but it is not for the faint hearted…I was in a very dark place (ha!) myself back when I read it and it was tough.

      • K.K says:

        Sharp Objects is a close second to Dark Places. Dark Places was just stronger with the plotting and writing. Sharp Objects was a well written book. It affected more than her other two books. I had to sit for a bit with it after I read it. It was disturbing on a lot of levels. I really felt hopeless for Camille. Of all her characters, Camille is the most endearing because she’s a good person who was fucked up by her mother and at the end, you want to be hopeful for her, but you it’s hard to. It definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. but books with horrible characters need to be written. Humanity has ugliness in it. We all need to see it.

    • manda says:

      sharp objects was spooky at times. reading it left me on edge, but I liked it.

    • lucy2 says:

      That’s good to know, I’m going to start Sharp Objects soon, and have enjoyed the other 2.

      Dark Places was…dark. It was an engrossing story and well written, but it’s a story you have to go into knowing there’s no happy light at the end of the tunnel.

      • MrsBPitt says:

        I, too, loved all three books! I love Flynn’s writing style!

        It does tend to bother me though, if, while reading a book, that is being turned into a movie, I find out the casting and it is so off. Charlize Theron is a good actress, but I don’t understand why they wouldn’t look for someone more physically like the character. Maybe Ellen Page, with her hair dyed? I’m tying to think of someone tiny…

      • Lilo says:

        Ohh, I would have loved Ellen Page! I don’t think I will watch the movies, neither casting is to my liking and I know me..,movies always ruin the books for me.

    • OlyB says:

      I agree! “Sharp Objects” is my favorite; I feel like GF keeps writing to try and revisit the special alchemy of that story. The horror of who is responsible for what…great googly moogly! Even just the simple horror of having such an unpleasant childhood and feeling love and compassion for a younger sibling who is unworthy of her blind devotion…. I think “Gone Girl” spent to much time developing the diary character. I wouldn’t have minded a greater focus on events that happened once she left… the re-entry was far more interesting.

      • ctpdenver says:

        That was an awesomely creepy, suspenseful book (Sharp Objects). I didn’t care for the ending of Gone Girl but I stayed up all night reading it so that says something about her ability to build suspense.

  3. snakecharmer says:

    i read gone girl in january on a flight from houston to honolulu and loved it. i picked up dark places a few days later along with sharp objects. i didnt care for sharp objects but i ended up liking dark places. the humor really grew on me a bit. dark places unfolded in an intresting way, but i agree that her other books dont get near what she did with gone girl.

  4. bettyrose says:

    I read Dark Places after Gone Girl. I’m new to this genre but I thought Gone Girl was gripping and wanted another similar experience. I actually liked Dark Places better. I think the pacing was similar between the two, so I read both of them in a day or two, but I liked the story in Dark Places more. Moreover, I hated the charters less. I liked Libby Day. I enjoyed following her story. The characters in Gone Girl are self-involved yuppie assholes, so while I enjoyed watching their lives fall apart, I couldn’t really route for them the way I could with Libby Day. I agree with Kaiser that the big reveal was a little disappointing, but I’m new to suspense/crime novels, and it was as good/plausible an ending as I’ve encountered so far in this genre.

    I do plan to read Sharp Objects at some point. Right now, I’m reading The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, which has its moments, but it’s not as interesting a read as either of the Gillian Flynn’ novels I’ve read so far.

    • manda says:

      Not sure why that book gets compared so often to gone girl, they’re not really that similar. That being said, I enjoyed the silent wife. It really left me thinking, long after I finished the book.

      • bettyrose says:

        manda – Amazon pushed The Silent Wife on me when I finished Gone Girl. I’m only 1/2 way through, but I do see some similarity with the characters. I’m intrigued by your comment, though, and looking forward to finding out what about the end kept you thinking about it long after.

    • Kaiser says:

      I read The Silent Wife recently too, and I have to say… I enjoyed it more than Dark Places. The narration jumps aren’t as crazy and the storytelling overall was just better, I thought.

  5. Skyblue says:

    I read all three books in rapid succession last fall. I thought Gone Girl was great fun. The other two were just a little too much. Too gritty. Too sad. Too sick. That said, the teenage Skyblue of my past would have loved the hell out of them. The adult Skyblue who works as a nurse, not so much. All through Dark Places and Sharp Objects I kept thinking “would someone please contact social services”

    • Esmom says:

      Agreed — and I did the same thing last summer with all three books. The author’s background as a crime journalist had to be major influences in the first two, she wrote of what she knew and it was not pretty.

      She elevated the same kind of material with Gone Girl…maybe she realized she needed to do something to make her writing more palatable to a wider audience? If so, it definitely worked!

    • wheezy says:

      Im in this boat, I read all three books in the order in which they were published, for some reason I thought it was a trilogy of sorts. Anyway- the “social services” comment above…uh yes, GF has some incredibly amazing creative writing mind to put pen to paper the way that she did. Her style is definitely different than what I normally read, but Gone Girl was talked up so much on this site, I just had to read it. The first two were a little much for me…very disturbed books.
      Now, Gone Girl- I loved the book, like the others I couldn’t put it down, but personally I was really disappointed with the ending, I was super let down after being so enthralled with the book.
      GF really is a great writer, she certainly knows the craft of captivation.
      and Charlize for Libby Day? No way!

  6. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I didn’t read this because I didn’t like gone girl. I gather from what people are saying that I made the right decision?

    • Esmom says:

      Probably, she just may not be your thing. I enjoyed Gone Girl — it felt like a breath of fresh, literary (albeit crazy) air coming off of the relentless hype of 50 Shade of Gray, which to me represented a depressing new low in publishing (not based on actually reading it, I’ll admit, only on the hype).

      So I then went back and read Sharp Objects and Dark Places and was really struck how parts of both of them seemed almost like rough drafts for Gone Girl. It was to me a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of a writer and her voice, as Kaiser mentions.

      I’ll be really curious to know what Ms. Flynn has up her sleeve next — I’m sure the pressure to top Gone Girl, given its bonkers success, must be intense — and whatever it is I’ll read it.

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        Hi, Esmom,
        Interesting. You’re the second person who has made me think I’ll try Gone Girl again. I stopped reading it, which is something I rarely do, but I just couldn’t get into the characters. That’s happened to me before, though, and I tried again and liked the book, so thanks, I think I’ll give it another go.

        I read the free download from Amazon of 50 Shades. Absolute garbage.

    • Dopey says:

      Thanks Esmom & GNAT, I’d never heard of this author (as don’t read crime fiction) but, based on your opinions, I’ll give her a go as I love a good mind f*ck.

      As for 50 Shades – it was recommended by the clique of girlies I work with and said I would give it a chance. I managed about 1/2 a chapter before I gave up and, when asked the next day, told them I thought it was the most poorly written drivel I had ever had the misfortune to read, that both author and publisher should be tried for crimes against humanity and it’s popularity only proved that the world was populated by sheeple who believe media hype and whatever the “cool kids” tell them 😀

      • Ripley says:

        I don’t know, I truly didn’t hate 50 Shades the way I hated the end of Gone Girl.

      • ctpdenver says:

        Oh, those 50 Shades books – you could drive a car through the plot holes. Also, he is a STALKER, I don’t care how rich or cute he is.

    • Ripley says:

      Meh… I hated the end of Gone Girl… HATED it. I don’t mind her books or writing style, just not amazing in my mind. To each their own.

      • ella says:

        Me, too. Actually, I loved the writing in Gone Girl up until the first big plot twist. After that, it seemed contrived, and just got worse until the end.

  7. Renee28 says:

    I read Gone Girl and then Dark Places and I’m convinced Flynn can’t write a good ending. Both endings felt rushed and ruined what had been good books. I’ll give Sharp Objects a chance but this might be my last Flynn book.

    • Vanessa says:

      I’ve read Gone Girl and Sharp Objects and I completely agree with you. I love the books right up until the ending. I don’t know if it was rushed, or what, but I feel like she writes so well for most of the book, really keeping you hooked, and then relies on overly complicated, improbable endings. It just leaves me disappointed and really wishing I liked the book more than I did.

  8. Size Does Matter says:

    Dark Places and Sharp Objects gave me nightmares. Gone Girl did not. Read with caution.

    • Victoria1 says:

      Omg me too! It took me months to read again because all three books disturbed me! I did love Gone Girl because I used to read Ann Rule’s true crime stories…

      Dark places was sad and I hated the characters!

      Sharp objects gave me nightmares and I was afraid if being turned off of bacon forever. Good thing that passed 😉

      • Size Does Matter says:

        I have read most of Ann Rule’s work, too, and I love it. Did you read Small Sacrifices?

  9. Su says:

    Oh oh! Long time reader but always too lazy to join in on the comments. But books are my first true love and I had to chime in! Surprisingly I heard that Dark Places was the best of her three books (only hear that from my friend who read all three). I love crime / detective shows but strangely that’s a genre I rarely touch when reading. So I have to say that I was surprised at how much I loved it. It’s not necessarily a sad ending but kind of just is – truthful to how the story panned out.

    I don’t think I was disappointed at the ending. While I didn’t quite figure out whodunit – I had an idea when I slowly read about Patty’s desperation. So… to me it was all believable. I also liked how it boiled down to the events on that night, the culmination unraveling so to speak. It doesn’t feel rushed at all.

    It seems like I might need to read the other two books as well!

    Also -yes, Charlize Theron as Libby Day? Statuesque isn’t exactly how Libby is described. Between myself and my friend we thought Reese Witherspoon or Kat Dennings, etc would have been a better choice.

  10. Lahdidahbaby says:

    Great selection! I love Gillian Flynn, though I agree with Kaiser that Gone Girl is superior to the others. I’ve read all of Flynn’s novels now, and would recommend each one for different reasons, but as Kaiser says, if you read them in the order in which she wrote them, it’s an interesting pleasure to watch her developing her voice as a writer. Gillian Flynn just gets better with each novel. Thumbs up!

  11. Ola Wysocka says:

    I read all 3 books by Gillian Flynn and I enjoyed all of them. It’s fascinating to see how much she develops as a writer – in my opinion Sharp Objects is the weakest of them all (still very readable) and Gone Girl is the best. But my own sister who’s so highbrow and well-read absolutely detested Gone Girl and loved Dark Places. I guess it’s different strokes for different folks. I really liked Dark Places and was looking forward to see it on big screen but Charlize Theron as Libby Day is terribly miscast. Will probably see it anyway, just so disappointed with the choice!

  12. Ginger says:

    I didn’t read Dark Places although it was also recommended to me because I loved Gone Girl so much. I had heard critiques similar to Kaiser’s take that the book was not that strong by comparison. I am currently finishing Voyager, a Diana Gabaldon book in the Outlander series. When I (finally) finish it (100 pages to go…it’s 1045 pages!) I would be thrilled to begin the Diana Chronicles. I almost started that book last year but held off because I’ve been enjoying the Outlander series so much. I can’t wait until the TV show begins on Starz!

    • Drea says:

      I just posted a comment about this series below and then saw yours. I am so excited that its being made into a tv series. Probably my all time favourite books. I read them so many times that my son got me new copies for last Christmas because mine were falling apart.

  13. Jessica says:

    I guess I’m in the minority on this. I got all three of her books at the same time from a used bookstore (thankfully), because so many people were raving about them. I read Sharp Objects which I hated. Then Dark Places which I hated even more. Then finally, because of all the hype around it and I still had a little hope it would be good, Gone Girl, one of the most overrated books in a long time. I don’t mind a little darkness in my books, but all three of these are just too much. Sick, nasty, depressing, twisted worlds. There really isn’t one likable or sympathetic character in any of them. The only reason I didn’t give up on them is because of my annoying habit of finishing books I start, and after the pain of slogging through them, I did want to find out how they ended. All three had bad endings, but for me the only way I would’ve been satisfied would’ve been death for every single character.

    But the thing that really bothered me about the books is Gillian Flynn’s attitude towards people from the Midwest. Not counting the main characters who are all just completely messed up in some way, the supporting characters in the small towns are portrayed as stupid and ugly objects of ridicule and condescension. And while I’m not from the states that she wrote about, it’s hard to not be offended.

    • ctpdenver says:

      I didn’t particularly like any of her characters but I enjoyed Sharp Objects. It was freaky.

  14. Map says:

    This book haunted me. In particular, one line uttered by Patty, paraphrased as “I wish I wish I could take this back.” I couldn’t sleep for nights.

  15. Drea says:

    So this is off topic of this particular book but still book related. Has anybody read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon? It’s being made into a tv series right now and is airing this summer. (starring Sam Heughan and Catriona Balfe. I don’t know if I live in my own little bubble but this book series is pretty popular and the tv show is really anticipated.

    On that note does anybody have some good book suggestions? I’m going to be off work due to surgery on my hands for the next three months and I think I may have to get into the book club since I love to read.

    • Esmom says:

      One of the best books I’ve read in a long time was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and a few of my fellow reader friends have agreed. It just grabs you from page one and is so hard to put down. I know there’s a huge cult following for her first novel, The Secret History, which I also loved and could not put down, but imo The Goldfinch is far superior.

  16. K.K says:

    I read Gone Girl and loved Gillian’s acerbic, witty writing. I read Dark Places first and was blown away. Although different from Gone Girl, I found Dark Places to be on a whole different level. It was so layered and the character’s, as f’ked up as they all were, were some of the most interesting characters. Libby was a very interesting character. There were these little things about her that really cracked me up and showed how well plotted the story was. Her klepto tendencies, her laziness, even the way she Gillian described her – 4-11 with big porno boobs. Loved it!!! I loved the way the different perspectives and how it was tied-up neatly by the end. Gone Girl catapulted Gillian into literary stardom, but Dark Places and her first book Sharp Objects are so much better. I can’t wait for the movie. Is Charlize Theron still playing Libby? God I hope not.

    • P.J. says:

      My thought’s exactly K.K. but unfortunately she is a producer on the film and the casting directors thought it would be ‘easier’ to have Theron fill Amy Adam’s shoes last minute than re-cast someone else. So sad; Amy would have been amazzzzzing.

      That said, if Charlize could transform herself into notorious serial killer Eileen Wuornos so convincingly, I have high hopes for her as Libby although the whole height thing does really bug. I mean, as you’ve hinted at, Libby’s tiny stature is such a HUGE part of the story and who the character is. I’m very worried about the entire production if all involved are feeling like this is just something “minor” that can be completely ignored. (I mean, they’ve casted Drea de Matteo as Krissy for God’s sake! Lol. And as awesome as she is, all I can picture is her playing her like Adrianna from The Soprano’s which is so, so off and wrong 😂)

      • K.K says:

        OMG.. Thank you for this info. Drea as Krissy????? Yes, Libby’s stature was such a big part of the book. Especially when she went to find Runner and he picked her up (a grown woman) and started swinging her around as if she’s a child. Her awkwardness was what I loved about her. I hate Hollywood.

  17. P.J. says:

    Dark Places is my absolute FAVORITE book of all time and unlike anything I have ever read before. (I was randomly browsing through the “New” section in the front of Barnes and Noble a few years pago, read the inner sleeve, walked away and found myself continuously thinking about, returning to and quite literally dancing around it until I finally just said “Ok. For some reason it’s clear that I HAVE to buy this.” Boy am I glad I did!) I really loved the narration leaps and time jumping and its writing-much like Stephen King’s “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” (my third favorite of all time)-made me feel like I was physically pulled into the story as soon as I opened it up again before bed. I became incredibly attached to all of the character’s (particularly Libby’s long suffering mom) and as Bedhead said, was completely SHATTERED by the last few chapters and conclusion.

    In fact, I love this book so much that I was actually afraid to click on the story and hear anyone say anything negative about it. Idk I just think we all have books in our present or from our past that hold very special places in out hearts for whatever reason and Dark Places is at the top of that list for me.

    All that being said, as much as I adore Charlize Theron and find her to be an incredibly talented and more than capable actor, it really bummed me out and worried me when I found out that Amy Adam’s dropped out of the role of Libby (Amy, why??) and she’s taken her place. (Libby is supposed to be about 4’11 and plain Charlize is an beautiful Amazon!) I just feel like Adams is an acting goddess who would have been much better suited for the role. And Chloe Moritz as Diondra?! Please don’t even get me started 😒 The rest of the cast-particularly the young relative unknown that they’ve cast in the role of Trey-seems very well chosen though. Oh, other than Drea deMatteo(!) as Krissy. (The f**k?) Sigh. *High hopes*

  18. K.K says:

    For those who thought Gone Girl was superior to Dark Places, I saw the plot coming and thought the end was ridiculous. The writing was much sharper in Gone Girl. She developed well, but plot wise and shear writing grit, Dark Places was more thoughtful in it’s storytelling.

  19. ctpdenver says:

    I really recommend Sharp Objects. I think it’s her best novel. It really freaked me out.

  20. Happy21 says:

    I haven’t read Gone Girl because I’m old fashioned and buy books and refuse to spend the money on a hardcover book that I will read in a day and a half. However, it’s out in paperback next week and I’m stoked.

    I’ve read both Sharp Objects and Dark Places. Sharp Objects was pretty good but Dark Places was my absolute favourite of the two. I never wanted it to end. I loved it!

  21. Shan1983 says:

    This will be unpopular but…I positively detest Flynn’s writing style. It reminded me of the manuscripts I would have to read in my undergrad English lit classes by my classmates: A for effort, but next week’s will be the same style by a different person. However, I can see the appeal of her for quick reads – I read Dark Places and Sharp Objects while stranded in an airport – but that’s it. When it comes to crime novels my ultimate is the Dragon Tattoo series. I love how Scandinavian writers tackle crime/ mystery genres, but I also know they tend to be more complex and multifaceted – more of an emotional or mental investment that isn’t best suited for airport or beach reading. I will say I found the actual story interesting, but it was hard to get past the feeling they could have been written by angsty 16 year old girls. I’ve heard Gone Girl is quite good, but there are far more talented writers out there I would rather support.

    *ducks and covers*

  22. Nimbolicious says:

    I like Flynn’s writing style. It’s real, and she makes very incisive observations about people – for instance, all those needy characters who comprise the Kill Club convention/meetings. I’d vote for Kristen Stewart to play Libby Day; I think her resistant, rebellious nature would be perfect for that character.

    Flynn also painted an interesting portrait of a sanctimonious and ignorant Midwest town. So quick to vilify, to blame, to point to an “ism” (here, Satanism) as the scapegoat for anything that reveals the underbelly of a time and place that isn’t shiny and happy.

    Looking forward to reading “Gone Girl.”

  23. Anita says:

    Sharp Objects is my favourite of Flynn’s books, but I’m frustrated Charlize Theron won’t be playing the protagonist in the film version of this book instead of Dark Places, because she would be perfect in the role-beautiful, blonde, aloof.