In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I remember exactly when my excitement for In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware started. I was sitting in my car, waiting the last few minutes before I had to go in to work, listening to NPR. I remember laughing because Donald Trump said he was going to run for president, and the radio journalists didn’t take it seriously either. Then Ruth Ware was on for an interview about her new book. She claimed that the house where a group gathers for a bachelorette party has huge glass walls. Ware had been influenced by the 1996 movie Scream, in which everything would be fine of only someone would close the damn blinds. Early in the novel, one guest points out that it feels like there is an audience in the woods and the folks at the party are a stage — which means they’re being watched.

Let me back up.

Simply put, In A Dark, Dark Wood is about Nora, who receives an e-invite to a bachelorette party in the woods in a glass house with no cell reception from a former high school friend named Clare whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. This puts almost all of our characters at 26-28 years old. Nora can’t figure out why Clare invited her, but we do learn quickly that Clare’s new best friend, Flo, who has organized the bachelorette weekend, is super unhinged.

Then Chekhov enters the novel. Well, not really. His rule does: if there is a gun on the mantle in the first scene, it must be fired by the last scene. It’s a classic writing rule. Haha, the owner of the house literally has a shot gun over the fireplace, so that was a big spoiler alert. Much is made of guns: how the shot gun is loaded with blanks to scare off rabbits, how Flo takes the group clay pigeon shooting as a fun activity, that time one guest points the gun at Nora for a laugh.

dark wood

In A Dark, Dark Wood is split into two story lines, but not the way we’re often seeing with novels today — something present and something circa World War II. The story of the bachelorette party is in past tense, and interspersed are scenes with Nora in the hospital, written in present tense. The hospital scenes are few and far between at first, but when the story hits a climax, readers spend most of the time after in the hospital, a fact I found annoying. Nora couldn’t remember everything that had happened, so she goes on and on about her lack of memory and how bad that is.

Things slugged along here for me, but I found the rest of the novel enjoyable. Each character had unique traits, so I could tell them apart. There were some mysterious footprints outside in the snow and unanswered questions about Clare and Flo that give the book a creepy edge. I didn’t actually find much to support Ware’s claim that if only the party would close some blinds they’d be safe, because not much was made of the footprints, and there was no other evidence of someone “watching.” To be fair, if I hadn’t heard Ware’s interview, I never would have expected as much to happen — but I really wanted it to!

A good fun read that reiterates high school damages some people for life.

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20 comments

  1. Like many mysteries, you spend much of the book trying to figure out who the culprit is, but Ware keeps you guessing. If there was a butler, I would’ve swore he dunnit. The timelines bit was actually really interesting. You know the protagonist survives, so where is the tension? I liked how they played out. I usually get annoyed with an unreliable narrator, and the repetition of details she did remember while trying to remember others was a bit much, but I think it was ultimately worth it. Fun book!

    • So it’s kind of like those shark attack stories on Animal Planet. You know the person survives because he/she is being interviewed. The surprise usually comes when you find out his/her legs are missing or most of the torso or something. 😲

  2. I like that Chekhov reference! And, yes, the gun was a real hint, wasn’t it? I thought that what helped this novel to work was the set of interactions among the characters, so that you could see traces of what they’d been like in school, and how that still impacts them. And, of course, that setting – that house in the woods!

    • But only three of them went to school together. I was more surprised by the random strangers: Tom, Melanie, Flo. They didn’t fit Nina’s high school bigger at all, so you HAVE to wonder if she’s changed. Ack!

  3. I remember being excited about this book. I also remember being disappointed with it. I guess I don’t like the same thing over and over again. I read the whole thing and thought it was a bit predictable. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many others like it.

  4. This is one of my favourite psychological thrillers. I liked the fact that it felt so emotionally authentic, whereas so many distort the characters’ behaviour for the sake of twists. The dual timeline worked well for me – I felt there was a lot of tension in the hospital scenes, as we gradually realise that Nora may be a sitting target. And unlike so many thriller writers, Ware writes very well and makes effective use of the setting. I haven’t been as impressed by her two more recent books, however.

    • I also read The Woman in Cabin 10 and felt the characters were not authentic, but I was really drawn in by the way the narrator’s credibility is questioned because she takes anti-depression or anti-anxiety medications. They make her sound like a lunatic, even though a lot of people take these medications.

  5. Nice review! I really enjoyed this one, very entertaining. I liked Woman in Cabin 10 a bit less (still a fun read, though) and still haven’t yet read the other two. But The Death of Mrs. Westaway is next up for me in fiction.

  6. I loved The Death of Mrs Westaway so am looking forward to getting to this one sometime. A pity it gets a bit waffly, but that seems to be the way of the crime fiction world at the moment. Otherwise it sounds like you had a good time with it…

  7. I really like the sound of the set up for this one, but have a feeling that like The Woman in Cabin 10, it will probably leave me wanting more. Please tell me you eventually find out whose footprints those were because if I do pick it up, this is all I’m going to think about.

  8. I can’t remember if you’ve read any other Ware books yet, but your ending thought re: high school damaging people for life is sort of a theme that she uses for many of her books. Is she trying to tell us something here? Or is she just getting back at those girls who were mean to her in high school, and show she’s a super famous novelist? LOL

    • Not a clue. I think I was too stubborn and self-aware in high school to hang out with mean girls or let them be petty to me. Oftentimes, they weren’t too sharp, so thwarting them was easy. Now, junior high would be a whole different story…

  9. What a great October read! It sounds like this novel contained quite a bit of creeping dread. I’ve heard that quite a few psychological thrillers are starting this dual timeline between the critical event and the hospital– but, as someone who doesn’t read many thrillers, I cannot name a single one! XD

    Will you be continuing to read more of Ware’s texts? I’ve seen her name all over the place lately. She is becoming quite prolific with a new book every year. I don’t know how authors can do it!

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