In a Dark Dark Wood, Ruth Ware

Monday, March 12, 2018

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you're probably familiar with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, either in book or movie form. Both novels play with unreliable narrators who know they are unreliable, one a falling-down drunk, the other an amnesiac with short-term memory loss. For different reasons, each has holes in their memory that cause them to question not just the motives and actions of others, but their own as well. Ruth Ware's novel, In a Dark Dark Wood, is another example of this type of story, where no one, not even the person telling the story, knows exactly what is going on.

The main character of Ware's novel is Nora (who in her younger days was known as Lee). A crime writer, Nora works from home, and rarely has much interaction with the outside world, other than the occasional drinks with her friend Nina. She is surprised when she is invited to the bachelorette party of a former friend, Clare Cavendish, who she hasn't seen or spoken to in years. Nina convinces her to go, and the two set off for a weekend in the woods. The weekend quickly turns strange, and 48 hours after she arrived, Nora wakes up in the hospital with no memory of what has happened and the knowledge that someone ended up dead. Nora becomes a suspect, and because of her head injury, she can't be sure she wasn't the one. But slowly, as Nora remembers, it becomes clear that she is only a pawn in someone else's murderous plot.

Ware does a great job with mood and tone. The house where the party happens is all glass and chrome, becoming one large fishbowl when the woods are dark and the lights are on. The description reminded me of the house from the movie (American, not Swedish) for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Ware's descriptions of the English countryside are equally eerie, oppressive and dark. The setting provides the foundation for the creep factor, but what is really disturbing is the behavior of the people at the party; Clare's perfect charm, Flo's obsessive worship of Clare, Tom's dry gay humor, and Melanie's homesickness for her children. As a reader, you never feel completely comfortable. The tension that is created mimics perfectly the anxiety and fear that Nora ends up feeling.

The plot is possibly a little too convoluted, though it is impressive that Ware was able to create this intricate story with every little detail coming together to explain the events. There were no extraneous events that ended up being unrelated, no last-minute deus ex machina to solve the mystery. Everything fit together neatly at the end like pieces of a puzzle. All in all, I'd say if you enjoyed The Girl on the Train or Before I go to Sleep, or if you are a fan of atmospheric mysteries, you will like this book.

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