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Do you have to like the protagonist to enjoy the novel?

“The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing.” – Flynn.

After reading Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, Gone Girl (2012) and then racing to watch the film adaptation immediately afterwards – this is how I feel about film adaptations, so I was pleasantly surprised with Fincher’s end product – I knew that I had to read something else by her. Luckily a fellow Crocstar brought in Flynn’s Dark Places (2009).

Dark Places is the story of the Day family, Patty Day is a single mum raising four children on a farm in Kansas that’s losing money by the day, much to the dissatisfaction of her four children. One fateful night, Patty and two of her daughters are massacred in their home. Youngest child, Libby, and oldest, Ben survive, but Ben is the prime suspect – and Libby testifies that it was her elder brother who brutally murdered her mother and siblings. But is Ben capable of killing his own family? Did Libby really see Ben?

The first thing that struck me was my dislike for almost all of the characters – especially the women. How refreshing, when most novels pitch their female protagonists as sympathetic, admirable and often aspirational.

Libby is the opposite. She’s lazy, mean and difficult. Ok, so I get that her family was murdered in cold blood, and the only person she has still got is in jail, BUT, Libby has used this excuse to squeeze sympathy – and money – out of anyone who will listen to her for her entire life. In fact, money is the only thing that encourages her to delve into the horrors of her past. Interestingly Libby was not originally written as this sort of character, Flynn wrote her as an ‘optimistic presence‘. Luckily, she changed her mind. Often characters that are awful and unlikeable are usually the most interesting.

With this in mind, the outcome of the novel leaves me confused as to who I should be empathizing with – every character has their demons, making it difficult to pin a certain character as ‘bad’. This seems to be a recurring theme in Flynn’s novels, in Gone Girl Amy is an UB (Ultimate Bitch), but when studying each character in turn, every one of them possesses undesirable traits and/or has done something questionable. Often the ending of the novel feels different to each individual depending on their own morals, this alone creates a really intriguing read.

Flynn naturally writes with such great pacing and tension that it’s really, really difficult not to just skip to the end and find out what happened. A friend and I discussed how she writes these amazingly detailed plots – how does she do it? We concluded that she must work backwards, so, she thinks of the ending first then adds characters and plot line later. Yet after reading various articles, Flynn seems to do quite the opposite (this could all just be a ploy in order to hide her writing process secrets, of course). You decide.

Find out more here.

 

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