Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
As 2017 comes to an abruptly-encroaching close, I have come to the conclusion that I have read one too many suspense novels in the tail-end of the year. Drawn in by the promise of mystery, intrigue, danger, and maybe a little bit of romance, I have full-speed driven through the likes of Final Girls, The Child, Lies She Told, and Emma In The Night (thanks, Book Of The Month). In no shortage of female protagonists and plot twists, I think it’s time I take a break.
With this in mind, I have just finished In A Dark, Dark Wood. While Woman In Cabin 10 has been creeping into my reading list for a few months now, this is my first interaction with Ruth Ware. I stumbled across In A Dark, Dark Wood in Target, attracted to its appropriately creepy cover and the inference that it was a scary, spine-tingling read.
The book follows Leonora Shaw, an anxious writer who, after struggling to escape a troubled past, is forced to join her estranged high school best friend, Clare, (and a couple of strangers) for a hen do. Lesson #1: don’t put an emotionally unstable person in charge of coordinating guest lists. But I digress; as in any thriller, this is all part of a master plot. The weekend progresses, creeping the characters and reader out with unlocked doors, mysterious footsteps, and the shady comments of the aforementioned unstable Flo, Clare’s eerily-obsessed right-hand-girl. The novel leaps gently back and forth between the events of the weekend, and Nora’s amnesiac reflection from a bloodied hospital bed.
Someone died. Someone killed somebody. Nora just has to remember.
The writing style sucked me in immediately; I was encouraged to not put this book too far out of reach, and I ended up reading it in two days. I appreciate a quick, exciting, easy read as much as any bookworm. Ware never gives us enough information, dangling mystery just above our heads for the first half of the novel. OBVIOUSLY I’m going to race to figure out the big reveal!
When the second act rolls around, we start to get our answers. After a night of being creeped out by the dark woods, strange sounds, and a good ol’ game of Ouija Board, the housemates are so defensive that they shoot James, the hen do
groom (who is also the baby daddy of Nora’s high-school aborted child).
In a turn of events, we struggle with Nora to learn that her ex-boyfriend has been murdered by his own fiancé, Clare, who masterminded a scheme to lure Nora to the house and frame her for the crime. Clare, in a fit of jealous, conceited rage, worried that James would leave her over lies shared a decade ago, found that the most suitable solution to maintain her dignity was to kill her husband-to-be.
I can’t say I wasn’t surprised, but I can’t say I was satisfied. For a plot twist, I commend the fact that I did NOT see it coming. However, I feel like this is the peak on top of a pile of unbelievable, flaky reveals. What Gone Girl did masterfully, in surprising us with a manipulative, vindictive female lead, In A Dark, Dark Wood tried to replicate, with ultimately less intrigue, drama, or believability. (To be noted, I don’t think Ruth Ware was actively trying to replicate Gone Girl; I think it’s just happy accidents that many thrillers draw similarities.) I also felt that the reveals in the end of the book happened in an overly expository way: we’re really just told that Nora had an abortion, and that James was the scandalous father, and after a first half hinting at repressed youthful secrets, it was mildly underwhelming and a tad derivative.
Ware’s characters are tangible and distinct. I’ve seen that readers have a problem with Nora’s attachment to a high-school heartbreak, but I didn’t find any fault in this. Nora is clearly an insecure, nervous person, and after your boyfriend leaves you to get an abortion by yourself, I wouldn’t fault her for being broken up about it for a while. Especially if your best friend ends up marrying (not to mention, murdering him).
While the ultimate twists and turns didn’t have an impact as I’d hoped, I loved Ware’s captivating prose, so I’ll surely be returning for more.