ABR’s #CBR5 Review #20: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark-placesOn its own, Dark Places is probably a very good book. But if you have read Gillian Flynn’s other novels, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Dark Places will seem familiar, derivative.

Dark Places may not be the page turner that Gone Girl was, but I still really like the way Flynn composes her novels. Her back-and-forth style not only creates suspense and tension, it gives the characters a chance to tell the story. You hear events from one character, and in the next chapter, another character corrects the errors, fills in the blanks, expands the story. I also think she is a uniquely descriptive writer.

That said, there is certainly a recipe to the success of her novels. Start with a troubled girl. Throw in a tragic past. Give her an addiction or vice. Make her family dysfunctional. Add a colleague who may turn into a love interest. Include one or two truly terrifying women. Turn the female protagonist into an amateur detective. End on a slightly optimistic note that still makes you feel dirty.

Libby Day is the troubled girl in Dark Places. In her tragic past her sisters and mother were killed, and when the signs and the townspeople pointed to Libby’s brother, she claimed he killed them. Libby’s vice is that she has lived off insurance money for 25 years. She doesn’t want to hold a job, have friends, clean herself or her apartment. And yes, she drinks and steals. Her possible love interest is Lyle, a member of the local Kill Club, a strange organization that is fascinated by murders and believes her brother is innocent. Libby herself is a pathetic character, but the doozy in this novel is Diondra, a sexually precocious 15-year-old addict, alcoholic, abuser, Satan worshipper. She’s a peach.

When Libby’s insurance money starts to run out, she teams up with Lyle and the Kill Club, who pay her to reconnect with her father and incarcerated brother, and sell mementos from her dead family. It’s no surprise that she begins to question her brother’s conviction and doubt her memories.

I would like to say that this book also ends more hopefully than it begins. But in the end Libby’s family is still dead (that isn’t a spoiler) and now you have the Diondra character in your head.

 

Kira’s #CBR5 “Review” #41: Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

sharp-objects-book-coverPeople who have read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl tend to have opinions about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. And I mean OPINIONS. Loved the first half, hated the second. Loved her, hated him. Can’t believe they cast Ben Affleck in the movie. And so on.

Personally, I was a fan. Flynn’s approach to the mystery genre was weird and interesting and unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable. I can get down with that. Which is why I’d been looking forward to reading her first novel, Sharp Objects.

Sharp Objects homes in on the same creepy vibe as Gone Girl, centered on characters who seem just a touch shy of believable, but interesting all the same. The novel focuses on bottom-tier Chicago reporter Camille Preaker, who is assigned to write about a series of murders in her small hometown. Spending time at home is trouble for Camille, who must face her passive-aggressive hypochondriac mother, her 13-year-old half sister (think Regina George meets Satan) and a slew of other characters from her not-so-great childhood. Truth be told, Camille is perhaps not entirely in her right mind, having recently spent some time in a mental institution.

[FULL REVIEW]

sonk’s #CBR5 Review #49: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places is about Libby Day, a woman in her late twenties whose family was brutally murdered when she was only seven. Her older brother, Ben, then only fifteen, is serving a life sentence for the crime, based largely on Libby’s testimony. Libby’s life is filled with anxiety and depression  and loneliness—she has nothing left, having driven away her remaining extended family and having used up almost all of the money she received from well-meaning strangers who heard of her story. Things are shaken up when Libby gets contacted by a member of “the Kill Club,” a group that meets to discuss and solve old mysteries. They think that her brother, Ben, is innocent—and they’re willing to pay Libby a lot of money to help them figure out what really happened on that night.

Read the rest of my review here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #127: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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My one coworker keeps asking me why I read such dark books. You know, because I’ve only really told her about this and The Death of Bees. Oh, and I’ve also mentioned my love (now dead) for the television series Dexter, among other things. So I can see where she’s coming from. She just doesn’t have the whole picture. Like I said in an earlier review, I can only tolerate so much “darkness.” When a story seems to exist only to torture its characters in as sadistic a fashion as possible, you’ve probably lost me. You could argue thatBreaking Bad falls into that camp, but Vince Gilligan is too much of a genius for me to care. Every character is morally compromised, and I’m still invested in what happens to all of them. I honestly don’t know how he does it.

Gillian Flynn, by comparison, isn’t quite as talented. None of her characters are likable, nor are they likable in their unlikableness, like some of Breaking Bad‘s characters (namely Walter White). In addition to that, Flynn doesn’t seem to particularly like any of her characters, based upon what they each go through. Libby, for instance, survives the massacre at her house, the only member of her family so lucky, yet she ends up having a couple toes and part of a finger amputated from hiding outside in the snow and cold. Oh, and she also agrees to go be chewed out by people who believe her brother’s innocent, even after the man courting her for this exact purpose spelled out for her precisely what would happen if she came. Apparently, she’s as masochistic as Flynn is sadistic. Continue reading

loulamac’s #CBRV review #40: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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I am one of the rare breed who didn’t lose their mind over Gone Girl. Let me put that a different way, I nearly lost my mind over everyone else losing their minds over Gone Girl when it really isn’t much good (you can read my review here), so I started Sharp Objects with some trepidation. I’m pleased to report that while I found the main character tiresome, and the plot a joke, I didn’t hate this book. Hooray!

Our narrator is Camille Preaker, a thirty-something Chicago-based reporter. She’s also a recovering self-harmer. The whiff of a possible serial-killer sees her editor sending her back to her home town, Wind Gap Missouri. A little girl has been murdered, and another has gone missing, and Camille is tasked with getting the ‘inside track’. Her return to her family home is not auspicious; Camille’s mother is self-absorbed, aggressive and bent on manipulating and punishing her eldest child. There’s also a step-father, who is extremely thin and extremely weird; a half-sister who is a mean-girl Lolita out of the home and a childish doll that is literally dressed up by her mother when in it; and a middle sister who died under mysterious circumstances. As you can imagine, being back at home is quite stressful for Camille, who has just about kicked the habit of carving words on her body that has left her with only a small patch of skin on her back that is un-scarred. As she gets involved in the investigation, she also gets ‘involved’ with the out-of-town detective on the case. They even manage to have full penetrative sex without taking off any clothes or revealing any skin at all. That’s a gift. The longer Camille is in Wind Gap, the more fragile she becomes. Particularly as she comes to realise that beyond being odd and oppressive, there is something very sinister going on in her family’s home that just may be connected to the murder and disappearance.

As it’s Gillian Flynn, the plot rattles along (and the book was mercifully brief), but you also have to wade through her usual smug, knowing prose. Everything is ‘vacant’ (‘empty’ being too ordinary perhaps), and there are too many unnecessary coincidences, like the narrator’s sister dying on her thirteenth birthday. The plot stampedes around being all Grand Guignol and gothic, and is completely over the top. The ‘twist’ at the end is pretty special too. The characters are reasonably well drawn, Camille’s mother in particular, who comes across as a ghastly cross between a David Lynch character and a matriarch from a Tennessee Williams play. All in all, I did enjoy it, but I still remain to be convinced by Gillian Flynn. She ain’t all that.

Rachie3879’s #CBR5 Review #42: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has been on everyone’s radar for a while now, and I’ve seen more than a handful reviews of it here on CBR5. In an effort not to be redundant (or give too much away), I’ll be pretty brief in this review. Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, an unhappily married couple waking up on their 5th wedding anniversary, going through the motions as always. Everything seems good (or as good as it can be when both people in a marriage loathe their spouse) until Nick gets a call from a neighbor; the front door to their house is wide open, and their cat is loose in the yard. As it is completely unheard of for Amy to be so scatterbrained, Nick rushes home only to discover his wife has disappeared.

Police arrive soon after and, seeing the overturned ottoman and broken glass, figure some sort of foul play is involved. Naturally, their suspicions eventually turn to the husband. Nick isn’t doing himself any favors by smiling inappropriately for cameras and lying at just about every opportunity. The novel switches back and forth between Nick’s point of view during the ordeal and some of Amy’s diary entries from the past. As readers we are forced to wonder which of our narrators is telling the truth.

Personally, I was also feeling forced to wonder if I cared. I obviously did enough to finish the book, and though I loathed pretty much every character, I did have that “can’t put this down” feeling (once I made it past about 80 pages or so anyway). I always struggle with how to react to stories about loathsome people. Because, let me be clear: Nick and Amy suck balls. Nick is a self-centered whiny baby who can’t stand for anyone to think ill of him. Amy is a controlling type A freak, basically, whose constant ‘tests’ on Nick’s love serve as obvious reasons why their marriage is in shambles. I can’t go into either character too much without giving things away. Amy’s parents are pretty awful and self-centered (is it just me or does popular culture ALWAYS portray shrinks as terrible parents? Is that true? It can’t be ALL bad…). Nick’s twin sister is fairly inoffensive, except that she allows everyone to call her Go (short for Margo) – which totally irritated me. Dumb nicknames often do.

I saw the twist coming a mile away. I can’t guarantee that I didn’t somehow glean it from some review or synopsis somewhere, but I don’t recall having read too much about it going in. This book wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t, at least in my opinion, deserving of all the hullabaloo it seems to have received. But hey, 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight are crazy bestsellers as well so I really should have been more disillusioned already. I am wondering in hindsight if Flynn really intended this as a mystery; it’s definitely more of a character study than a whodunit. The writing isn’t terrible, and it is a page-turner for sure, but I just feel like anyone paying attention wouldn’t have been surprised by anything in this novel. A lot of folks on Goodreads and whatnot have said they liked everything but how it ends. I disagree; I think the ending is pretty on par with the rest of the book. What we discover about the main character(s) by the end of the novel completely fits the character sketch Flynn has painstakingly drawn in the first two thirds. The choices the characters make at the end are really the only ones they CAN make, though they may not be neatly tied up as is often preferable in a mystery. Check this one out mainly so you have something to say when everyone else discusses it, but please, temper your expectations.

PS – I also didn’t manage to avoid casting news for the film they’re making of this book. While I don’t dislike the choices, I do like to picture the people myself without Hollywood influence. Minor details.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #46: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark PlacesI decided to read Dark Places (2009) by Gillian Flynn because I was so impressed with Flynn after reading Gone Girl. And I’m still impressed with Flynn’s writing, although Dark Places was not always as much of a page turner for me. That and every single one of her characters was so disturbing and flawed that I started losing my faith in humanity.

Libby Day was only seven years old when her mother and two sisters were murdered at her farmhouse one night. Libby barely escapes by climbing out of her mother’s window and hiding in the freezing woods until dawn. Later, her testimony helps to convict her fifteen-year-old brother of the crimes. About 25 years later, circumstances collide to force Libby to revisit what might have happened that night. The book shifts between Libby’s present-day perspective and her mother and brother’s stories from a couple of days before the murders. While reading, I was most interested in Libby’s present-day sleuthing. I was always a little disappointed when I started a new chapter and I was back in the mother’s depressing existence. Although once I got into them, all of the chapters were interesting.

Again, there was a lot to be impressed with in this book. For more detail, click here.

KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #9: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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There’s a little book called Gone Girl that’s been flying under the radar. I’m surprised more of you haven’t heard of it. Only 20 or 30 people recommended it to me, but I decided to give it a go anyway, and I’m glad I did. It’s nice to help out an unknown author now and then, and this was a real page turner.

Ok, in all seriousness, I did enjoy Gone Girl, but nobody wants to read yet another recap of the first two chapters or listen to me skate around any spoilers just in case someone out there is even more behind the curve than I am. But I did want to mention two aspects/techniques used in this novel that I appreciated: the non-ending and the unreliable narrator.

Now I know some people didn’t like the ending of Gone Girl, but to me it fit. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn said she doesn’t think people who wanted or expected a certain type of ending would necessarily have been satisfied with it, and I have to agree. To me, the question mark at the end of a journey has a way of staying with me much longer than a solid conclusion. To make a comparison with two popular films, the end of Fatal Attraction may have momentarily satisfied the audience’s thirst for justice, but personally, I didn’t think much about it after I left the theater. No Country for Old Men, on the other hand, crept into my brain and settled there, tugging at my imagination, making me wonder what was next and why we didn’t see justice. Tastes vary and I know plenty of people would like to see something else, but I truly hope when the Hollywood adaptation is made executives don’t rewrite for a “happier” ending. I also hope Flynn never writes a sequel, because to me, the worst thing you can do to a “what next” ending is to follow it up with the answer.

After finishing this book, I started to think about how much I enjoy reading from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. I love hearing a character’s story unfold and coming to realize that there is more, or less, to the story than I am hearing. Is the narrator lying? Crazy? Both? Is he mildly delusional or full-on psychotic? Is she ill, sad, evil, or merely misguided? Figuring that part out is just as interesting to me as uncovering the truth. The best novels that use this technique are the ones where the author never actually spells out the inconsistencies but provides just enough information for the reader to be able to piece it together on her own: Arthur Phillip’s The Egyptologist is one of my favorites. I think that’s why the first third of Gone Girl was the most fun for me—picking up gaps in Nick’s story and questioning why he was leaving out details and wondering to myself what I was supposed to think was engaging and suspenseful. Part two spells everything out, which is a little disappointing, but the switch in tone is earned. Flynn writes convincingly in at least three different voices, which is fun for a novel with only two narrators.

The unreliable narrator is a popular technique, and it’s one I can’t get enough of when done well. Fight Club, The Cask of Amontillado, and An Instance of the Fingerpost are all great examples. I would love to hear form you, fellow Cannonballers, about your favorite unreliable narrators so I can add them to my reading list.

Arya of Winterfell’s #CBRV Review #11: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

gone girlOthers have apparently been brief in their reviews of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”.  On the cover: “Thought-provoking.  Entertaining.  Chilling.”  Agreed, on all three counts.  This is the kind of book you’ve thanked the original friend recommending it profusely and who you’ve recommended to your mom, husband, bff, co-worker, random grocery store clerk, and library check-out girl.  I can’t trust myself to say much about “Gone Girl” without divulging spoilers.  Even uttering the title feels like I’ve said too much; see, there I go, hinting at spoilers.  “Gone Girl” is a mystery, a good one.  Enough said.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #42 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I was late to the whole Gone Girl thing. It was one of those books that everyone was reading, which makes me not want to read a book ever. I caved on this one, because everyone was raving about it, and I was curious.

I’m still not sure about whether I liked this book or not. It was certainly a page-turner, very compelling, interesting, and not like anything else I’ve ever read. The problem was (and I’ve heard this about Flynn’s other books as well) that every single person in the book is a total dick. Most people read to get away from shitty people (at least the shitty people we deal with on a daily basis), and the last thing we want to encounter in our leisure hours is a psychopath and her narcissist husband.

Anyway, if you haven’t read this book, stop now & go get it. Also, there may be some spoilers ahead. So – Amy and Nick Dunne. The book is told from both of their points of view – although both narrators are full of themselves, and full of shit. Nick leaves stuff out because he’s non-confrontational and wants everyone to like him. Amy just makes stuff up – I mean, literally. The entire first third of the book is a phenomenal set up – but who’s being set up? Nick? The reader? Everyone? Amy has disappeared on her 5th wedding anniversary, after being dragged from New York to the midwest. Nick thinks Amy has been isolated, and hates everyone and everything. Meanwhile, Amy has been cultivating a different image, outside of Nick’s knowledge. Not that Nick has been paying attention.

There is too much to deal with in this book (definite spoilers ahead – danger to all who have not read this book) – like I said, the first third is a set up. We hear what’s happening to Nick in real time, and hear from Amy in retrospect through her “diary.” So she disappears under mysterious circumstances. Initially people sympathize with Nick, but as we all know – the husband is always the first suspect. It doesn’t help that circumstances conspire to make Nick look as awful as possible. As the investigation progresses, Nick looks worse and worse.

Then we hit the middle third of the book – where we find out what’s really going on. Nick’s still pretty much a douche, but now we meet the real Amy. And hoo boy, is she a piece of work. She hasn’t been murdered, clearly, because now she’s with us. Not only is she alive, but she has orchestrated the whole freaking thing, because Nick has disappointed her. We learn that she has a nasty habit of destroying people who have disappointed her. Amy is awful. She’s evil. She has lied to everyone about everything. One can only hope that what we’re hearing from Amy here is the truth. Not that we want her to be that way, but we do need a reason. The big question is “why is she that way?” Did her parents make her like this – because of the series of “Amazing Amy” books? Or was she just born awful?

The end of the middle, and the final third of the book is full of manipulation. Is Nick manipulating Amy, or vice versa? Or both? The two of them end up playing each other to the point where I had no clue who had the upper hand. The end of the book has caused a lot of consternation, and for good reason. But the buildup to the end makes me think that while Amy has the last word in the book, I don’t believe she had the last word for real. I have partially written the epilogue – at least the epilogue that suits me. The one where the good guys win. Or at least the less bad guys.

One thing that weirded me out is that after all the darkness and borderline evil of the book, the author’s notes and dedications part reads like a high school yearbook. It was odd and strange, and didn’t feel like it meshed with the rest of the book. I still have to recommend this book, because it’s incredibly well-written and because it’s well outside the norm. You may not like anyone involved, but the story is compelling enough to make up for its characters’ flaws.