It was growing dark, and somehow the shadows made it feel as if all the trees had taken a collective step towards the house, edging in to shut out the sky.
Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is caked with hype. The front cover builds anticipation like a common Hollywood trailer. The last pages are a preview of Rare’s next novel, working to entice me into her brand before I’ve even finished my first taste of her work.
Reese Whitherspoon says that In a Dark, Dark Wood will not only be a page-turner but also a chilling thriller. Indeed, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a page-turner. But it is hardly a thrilling read. It did not frighten me. If anything, this novel is a drawn-out mystery with an overzealous amount of teenage angst and drama. But it’s damn good mystery.
It’s rare that I finish a book with such mixed feelings.
Ware’s cast of characters are adults harbouring all these unresolved feelings and histories—adults who are not emotionally mature enough to move beyond the turmoil of their teenage years.
In other words, Ware’s latest novel suffers from too much hype and very little follow through. In a Dark, Dark Wood will be remembered for its melodrama and little substance.
It’s the mystery that kept me turning the page. Nothing else. Ware’s novel reminded me of a classic game of Clue gone awry. The players taking it too seriously. Backstabbing each other. Projecting the drama that animates their conversations behind each other’s back onto the game-pieces.
There was something strangely naked about it, like we were on a stage set, playing our parts to an audience of eyes out there in the wood…
Nora is invited to her old-friend Clara’s Hen Party at a cabin in the snowy woods of Northumberland. What should have been a fun weekend getaway, celebrating a marriage to-come over cocktails, turned into a bloody murder.
Of course, Nora doesn’t want to go to the Hen Party. Clara stole her boyfriend almost ten years ago, and Clara doesn’t even keep in touch with Nora. Well, Nora decides to go but only if her old bestie goes.
The murder doesn’t happen because everyone secretly detests everyone. Nor because an innocent game of Never Have I Ever revealed the darkest secrets of the group. And neither because of the gay token character, a starving actor, brings the life of the party in the form of drugs.
The murder isn’t an accidental party favour.
After about one-hundred pages of dull drama, the victim is revealed to be a mysterious intruder who is openly killed before the entire party. The final two hundred pages hinge on the question: who is the victim and who killed him?
It’s up to Nora to discover who it is because everyone thinks it’s her.
We weren’t sixteen anymore. We didn’t have to hang around like there was an invisible umbilical cord tethering us together. We’d gone our separate ways and all survived…
The first-person narration by Nora relies on too much melodrama to raise the stakes. Sometimes it works, drawing me in with the frequent flashbacks and mid-scene cuts in a hospital as the narrator struggles to recall what happened that night. Sometimes it backfires, adding filler rather than substance to the story. Nora’s loss of memory, her mourning of her lost lover to Clara becomes repetitive long before the book lands on its reveal. And by then, the reader has had enough time to figure out who the culprit is.
That’s the unfortunate thing about In a Dark, Dark Wood. The finale isn’t surprising. The red herring is obvious half-way through the novel. Easily, this book could be condensed to a short novella.
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the novel is the Dark Woods turn out to be nothing more than an obtuse metaphor. It’s as if Ware had taken a page from M. Night. Shamylan’s story-telling techniques, building up suspense with the beautiful imagery of the woods, providing no payoff in the climax of the novel.
Nevertheless, the Powers That Be are turning In a Dark, Dark Wood into a movie.