Title: In a Dark, Dark Wood
Author: Ruth Ware
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press, April 19th 2016 (first published July 30th 2015)
Synopsis: What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.
Sometimes the only thing to fear… is yourself.
When reclusive writer Leonora is invited to the English countryside for a weekend away, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. But as the first night falls, revelations unfold among friends old and new, an unnerving memory shatters Leonora’s reserve, and a haunting realization creeps in: the party is not alone in the woods.
In a Dark, Dark Wood took me on a wild ride from the very first page to its last. It was a compulsive read, with a straight-forward set up and classic back-and-forth plot between Nora as she is cared for in a hospital after an accident, and Nora as the story began, days before the accident. After losing touch with her college friend, Claire, over ten years previous, Nora was surprised to be invited to Claire’s hen night (or Bachelorette party, for us Americans). She and a mutual friend named Nina make a pack to attend, spurred on by their own curiosity.
The setting was the first thing that set the rather unhinged atmosphere. Amid a secluded, creepy forest was a house of glass and metal. The writing focus on the house as an anchor for the story, and we see Ruth Ware turning to it and the darkness of the trees beyond as a tool. Having the weekend take place that felt so foreign to its surroundings added to the novel’s feeling of unease.
I will admit—a few characters at this hen night fell neatly into stereotypes: Clare (the bride-to-be/Nora’s former best friend), Melanie (the overstressed new mom), and Tom (the stereotypical gay male) failed to make a lasting impression on me. I did, however, enjoy the sarcastic and quick-witted Nina, and the emotionally unhinged Flo. As secondary characters, they breathed life into the group dynamic and made for a more engaging read. Nina also holds the award for my favorite line of dialogue: “If you ask me, she’s a couple of Xanax away from reenacting the shower scene in Psycho.”
This novel could have easily fallen into a common “horror flick” trope that many thrillers succumb to, but I found it reared above that with its engaging character dynamic and air of mystery. The pop culture references and the way the characters acknowledged the profound unease of the house all weekend made the situation feel genuine. As an unreliable narrator, I found Nora’s secluded, almost anemic personality fitting. I questioned everything she did and everything she claimed to remember.
Be prepared to plow through this novel the moment you pick it up. It may not have the most jaw-dropping twists or psychologically demanding plot, but it holds a spot in my heart none-the-less.