March 24, 2017 by femvestige
The first thing to mention about In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is that the prose is beautifully written. I loved Ruth’s descriptive flowing narrative, and many times I felt as if I was in the forest, the tree’s all around me, with my heart beating a single name over and over.
In a Dark, Dark Wood is narrated from the perspective of Leonora Shaw, a writer, and author who has a dark past. She receives an invitation to attend the ‘hen weekend’ (the British bachelorette weekend) of long time old and forgotten friend Clare. After a lot of back and forth “should I” and “should I not’s,” ‘Nora’ agrees to go, and sets up departure with another longtime school friend Nina.
Leonora (known also as Nora, Lee, Leo, and Shaw): the narrator, seemingly unreliable once the reader realizes there is memory loss after an ‘accident.’ A lot of self-hatred, stammering, and regret over the loss of teenage sweetheart James.
Nina: Nora’s school friend. Nina is defined by her sexual identity (Nina is gay), her quick wit and biting sarcasm, lack of a filter, and her profession as a doctor/surgeon with lingering PTSD.
Flo: Clare’s maid of honor. The hen weekend occurs at her aunt’s home. Flo is very controlling, seriously mentally and emotionally unstable, and 100% reliant on Clare. She dresses like Clare and is obsessive over the weekend being perfect. She cries a lot.
Tom: Also identified by his sexual identity (gay), Tom met Clare through theater and brings an element of the male influence into the party. He enjoys cocaine and asking questions that should drive the plot but do not. He seems to stir up trouble, but nothing that makes his presence necessary in the book.
Melanie: Clare and Flo’s university friend and a new mother. She is not present long, but she seems to add a logical and adult element to the group. She provides the contrast – if we didn’t know this was a hen weekend or the age of all the people present, the reader might assume it was a high school getaway. Melanie shows how juvenile much of the plot is.
James: Nora’s high school sweetheart, and Clare’s now fiance. James is the undercurrent of the whole novel, the main plot driving force for the ‘twist’ at the end, and the least present character in the book.
Clare: the celebrated bride-to-be, she is Nora’s longest friend (since age 5), and one of Nora’s most conflicting relationships. She is in public relations but is an incredible actress both on stage and not. She enjoys playing with people’s lives – she is the director.
The author includes lines that insinuate the whole book is like that of a play. The hen weekend occurs in a no-phone-service forested country area in a glass house. Tom mentions when in the house that the trees look like an audience, and those in the house are performing. This sets the whole tone for the book.
Though I did not fully get it until about halfway, interspersed throughout the first half of the book are what appear to be flashforwards of events that the reader does not know about. However, once the reader catches up to those events, we learn that Nora is in the hospital and is trying to remember from the beginning how she ended up there. We then learn that we have been reading the flashback.
The second half of the novel is Nora, Nina, and Tom being interrogated by female Detective Lamar. She appears to be on Nora’s side until Nora realizes she is a suspect for murder. The rest of the book is Nora trying to remember what happened with in-depth flashbacks to the events leading up to, and present-day beat-up Nora investigating what happens.
Issues with the book:
First, my biggest pet peeve which I’ve mentioned in previous reviews is timelines. If the author is going to include age and put time constraints on events and relationships, then they have to be consistent. The author clearly states that Nora has not been in contact with Clare or James in 10 years- when she was 16. The author also clearly states that Nora met and became friends with Clare when they are 5. That means she has known Clare for 20 years but was friends with her for only 10. I saw several hiccups where they mention the number of years or ages that do not stay within the confines of what the author set up. I notice these immediately, and it irritates me to no end.
This book has all the makings to be 5 stars, however, the plot devices are weak and unbelievable for adults with careers and getting married. The biggest plot device for all the conflict is how Nora and James broke up, which was orchestrated by Clare. Nora and James would have discovered this if they had a single conversation with each other, but instead, after a very emotionally invested relationship of 6 months that resulted in an oopsie pregnancy, they decide to not speak for 10 years. That is pretty unrealistic and very anticlimactic for the driving plot force of the entire novel. Clare is selfish and manipulative, and there could have been something much juicier to drive this plot – but it felt childish in the end.
Also, another big plot driver is how Nora’s phone becomes the primary piece of evidence. Nora mentions in a flashback how she lost her phone and was unsure where it was. Then, all of a sudden during interrogation she has no idea when or how she lost her phone, blah blah blah. First, it was clear as soon as Nora lost her phone that it would be used for this purpose. Second, Nora would have remembered that piece during her memory recall – so why was it conveniently not mentioned?
Lastly, to have Flo so dependent upon Clare for survival was pathetic and unrealistic. We were told instead of shown Clare’s ability to manipulate and control situations. Because we were told, it made it less believable for someone to want to become her. She was less than perfect from her entrance into the story, and we are supposed to believe that she can affect someone so deeply almost to the point of mind control. Meh.
I didn’t hate Nora – I could almost relate to her – but I didn’t love her either. She does not have any growth over the progression of the book even though she is given opportunity after opportunity. Her amnesia post-accident felt way too reminiscent of The Girl on the Train – but also too specific. The use of amnesia as a plot device did nothing for this novel but extend Nora’s personal inner thought narrative several pages.
I read this book in a day – I loved the style of writing. I enjoyed the descriptive narrative more than anything, and I enjoy character and conversation driven plots. That was all fantastic, and if you want a quick read, this is it. This is not a thriller – if anything it is anticlimactic. The characters are well developed with individual history’s which make them compelling, but I would have liked to know more. Ultimately, this book would have been so much better if the author could have come up with a convincing reason that wasn’t so juvenile for the plot to go where it did.
Rating out of 5: ✮✮✮
Dates Read: 03/22/17 – 03/23/17
Character Development: A
Best Feature: Character-driven plot and fast paced
Worst Feature: Weak plot devices