Between the Covers with Gillian Flynn: My Thoughts on Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl

Posted December 28, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 22 Comments

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Format: Paperback
Length: 254 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Broadway, 2007 (reprint)

Goodreads | Amazon

From Amazon:

Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims–a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
Title: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Format: Paperback
Length: 368 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Broadway, 2010 (reprint)

Goodreads | Amazon

From Amazon:

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club…and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Format: Hardcover
Length: 432 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Suspense/Thriller
Crown, June 2012

Goodreads | Amazon

From Amazon:

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

In the acknowledgments at the end of Dark Places, Gillian Flynn gives props to her husband for knowing how she thinks and still being able to sleep next to her with the lights off. Flynn’s husband deserves that acknowledgment because she has a dark imagination. All three books have the ingredients of excellent psychological suspense/thrillers: believable plots, dysfunctional characters with dysfunctional families/histories, crafty criminals, sinister thinking, and grisly murders. All three books fooled me in some way, and I’m not easily fooled. I should have seen the ending of Sharp Objects coming since it is similar to the ending of Dark Places, but I didn’t. The ending of Gone Girl was especially disturbing, and I thought to myself, ‘Huh. I wonder how Flynn’s husband feels about this book,’ which made reading the acknowledgments in Dark Places that much more amusing.

I read these books in reverse order because everyone was raving about Gone Girl, and I had never heard of Gillian Flynn before. I read Gone Girl first, and then wanted to read the other two immediately. While I enjoyed all three of them (Flynn’s writing gets progressively better in order of publication), Gone Girl continues to have the biggest impact on me. Even though I read these a few months ago, I still get uncomfortable and squirmy when I think about the ending of Gone Girl. I’m getting all weirded-out writing about it right now. The ending of Gone Girl is just…WHOA. Both main characters are screwed up, but I just can’t imagine being in Nick’s position. No. Just…no. I can’t really say anything more specific about it without giving it away, and I don’t want to do that in case people reading this haven’t read the book yet. I will just say that I think the ending is creepy and evil and great–it’s one book ending that I will never forget.

If you have read Gone Girl, and would like to check out some discussion about the book, I ended up reading it as part of Rebecca’s Love at First Book Club. You can check out the discussion posts here, here, and here.

I highly recommend all three of these books to anyone who likes reading suspense/thrillers. You won’t be disappointed.

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(To learn more about Gillian Flynn, please visit her website.)

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  • sj

    I have been RESISTING Gone Girl because the LAST TIME it was a book that EVERYONE said I HAD TO READ, I ended up reading The Time Traveller’s Wife which made me want to stick sharp objects in my eyes.

    • I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I know what you mean. I’ve been burned before, too. But I really liked all three of these.

    • Also? You said “sharp objects,” which made me giggle, considering…

      • sj

        Hee! OKAY, YOU’VE CONVINCED ME! I will get to them at some point, because now I actually WANT to read them, and that’s the whole point of YoRWtFIW!

        • I’m going to say it again: Best. Acronym. EVER.

          • sj

            Hee! I totally agree.

    • Dan Williams

      I know exactly what you mean. Thankfully, for once, I was not disappointed. Gone Girl is the real deal, although I like Dark Places even more.

      Sharp Objects has some problems, though.

    • Kerin

      I read Gone Girl first, so that I could watch the movie when it came out. I love Gone Girl, despite the fact that it was so immensely popular, and the movie left some things to be desired. I think what I liked about Gone Girl is that even though I can’t imagine doing what these characters have done, I understand why the characters have done what they have done. Which is impressive (you will know when you read it) that Gillian so satisfyingly completed these people that are messed up, and gave me an ending that has it all. Other people would disagree, because to them it was all just disturbing and even though that’s what most readers wanted, they aren’t willing to examine the development of the characters. I hope you enjoy it, I think it was better than “Dark Places” although that, again offered some interesting character portraits- which for me were actually harder to associate with.

      On another note, Gone Girl uses so many elements of the surrounding culture of these two people to correlate and symbolize what is going on internally. They meet in New York City, and move to Missouri (a small town setting which is moved by the wandering unemployed). The contrast in these two living experiences is used deftly to Gillian Flynn’s advantage. Im sure you will think it is worthwhile, but I hope you post your opinion either way.

  • therelentlessreader

    sj kills me, I swear, lol. I haven’t read Sharp Objects or Dark Places but I’ll get around to them eventually. I avoided Gone Girl for a while mostly because I’m a jerk who doesn’t want to read what everyone else is reading, lol. But when I gave in I LOVED it. That girl was cray cray!

    • Wasn’t she?! I mean, Amy seriously freaked me out. Cunning and maladjustment are a deadly combination. For real.

    • sj

      It really helps when I’ve had some wine. I’m not AS funny when I’m totally sober. But still a little funny.

  • I just read Gone Girl, and enjoyed it. It freaked me out too, particularly the ending. Check out my review here: riversihaveknown.com/gone-girl-by-gillian-flynn-a-review/

  • I need to pick up Dark Places, but I seriously tell everyone about that note to her husband that you mentioned to me a while ago! Also, when thinking of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Gone Girl just seriously is the most amazing and more memorable.

    And thanks for the shout out!!!!!

  • I’m going to have to come back and read this after I read Gone Girl!

    • I can’t wait to hear what you think of it (read: the ending)!

  • I agree with all your thoughts on Flynn here! I still have yet to read Dark Places—I put it on one of my 2013 reading challenges.

  • Michael

    Gone Girl has made me swear off chick lit because with writing this good, who needs romance?

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  • Dave

    I enjoyed Gone Girl and Dark Places to an extent, but have cooled on my interest in Flynn’s writing. Both books feature strong female lead characters and impotent male victims. I’m sure I bring too much baggage to these stories, but I need a little more from the male characters to interest me further.

    • Pamela

      Think about what it’s like for women reading the vast majority of books. Most books have strong male characters with undeveloped and incompetent women. Yet, women still read books featuring strong men and weak women. Why is it so hard for men to do the opposite?