Okay, I’ll be honest. I bought this book because the cover was pretty. I mean, look at that! Doesn’t it make you just want to touch it?
Still, as pretty as it is, this book made me want to swear off hen dos forever. It focuses, basically, on the bachelorette party from hell.
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware begins with the protagonist, Nora, running through the snowy woods, trying to escape some unseen threat. She eventually ends up in the hospital, where she tries to remember everything that’s happened, and how she ended up hurt, bleeding, and running away.
The next chapters form a flashback, where we learn that Nora has been invited to the bachelorette party of her childhood friend, Clare – strange, considering that Nora and Clare lost touch a little over ten years ago. Aside from Nora, we get to meet Flo, the somewhat screwed up maid-of-honor organizing the party; Nina, a doctor who was also a childhood friend of Clare’s; Tom, a flamboyant playwright; and Melanie, mother to a six-month-old baby on her first weekend away from her child. The group are headed to Flo’s aunt’s house somewhere in the woods. When they get there, it turns out that cellular service is patchy at best, and that the nearest town is miles away.
(If this were a horror movie, this is where I start throwing popcorn at the screen and calling out derisively, “Oh my God, white people.” Then again, Ruth Ware never explicitly describes all of her characters as white, so.)
It’s got all the makings of an Agatha Christie novel. A set of characters trapped in an isolated location, a coming storm, a dead body. It’s a classic whodunnit with the added plus of the elements of a psychological thriller.
Following in the footsteps of best-sellers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, In a Dark, Dark Wood provides the reader with a page-turner of a mystery, with a set of complex characters whose motives and thoughts you question at every turn, and a vastly unreliable narrator. I couldn’t put it down.
What I liked:
- Ruth Ware’s descriptions of the setting are amazing. Nora as a narrator is unreliable due to her amnesia (part of the thrill of the book is that she doesn’t remember a thing, which, naturally, makes pinpointing the killer a bit difficult) but the way she talks about the snow-covered surroundings was so on point. It almost felt like I was there.
- I’m really liking this trend in modern fiction of having psychopathic female killers. I really am.
- Nina is a wonderful character! She’s at turns biting, witty, thoughtful, and super sarcastic, but she’s also a really good friend.
What I disliked:
- The characters’ motivations are so unrealistic. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me just say that the killer’s motivations are nothing short of sheer, absolute ‘what the fuck’.
- Nora, as a whole, is an unlikeable character. She’s whiny, childish, and immature. There’s a ton more I’d like to say about her, but I can’t without spoiling the rest of the story. So suffice it to say, I really did not like her at all.
- The conflict central to this story – not to mention years of turmoil for both Nora and the killer – could have all been avoided so easily. It’s part and parcel of what makes the characters’ motivations so unbelievable. I’m a big fan of drama, but not drama that could have been solved at the drop of a hat, so many years prior to the beginning of the story.
- It’s hard to describe – you’ll see what I mean if you ever get around to reading this book – but I felt robbed of the climax. Apologies for the crude imagery, but it’s the closest I could get to accurately describing my overall impression of the book. In a Dark, Dark Wood started off strong. It was a good beginning, the mystery and suspense of it all really drawing the reader in, but the ending was pretty meh.
3/5. To be honest, In a Dark, Dark Wood on its own deserves a much lower rating, but I could really see the seed of a good author in Ruth Ware. Despite the book’s shortcomings, I have to admit, the woman can write. As I mentioned earlier, her words draw you in and leave you hooked. It just so happened that how she tied up loose ends left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, I kept in mind that this was her debut novel, and there’s bound to be improvement. Plotwise, the book left a lot to be desired. But Ruth Ware is an excellent writer and I’m looking forward to more works from her.