In A Dark, Dark Wood
By Ruth Ware
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Nora is a mystery novel writer and a bit of a shut in. You can imagine how surprised she is to discover that she has been invited the the bachelorette party of an old friend Clare that she has not spoken to in nearly 10 years. She is hesitant to except this odd invitation, but reluctantly makes a pact with her friend Nina to participate in the Hen Weekend together.
However, shortly after arriving, Nora is forced to face the painful past that originally separated the friends so many years ago. Within a few hours she regrets her decision to attend the party. Things become even more unsettling when the small group soon realizes that they are not alone at the English countryside home.
In a Dark, Dark Wood initially grabbed my attention with its beautiful cover and vague but alluring synopsis. Having made the New York Times Bestseller list and soon to be a motion picture, I was eager to dive in. I have this odd tendency to immediately grab titles if I learn they are being adapted to film and I have not read them (well the ones that appeal to me). I absolutely do not like to watch before reading, and it seems like one the film is released, those nasty little things called “spoilers” are looming, dangerously all about. So best solution, read the damn book, and do it now!
I am really sitting on the fence with this one though. I feel the book had many strong points, but there are also a few of my own hang-ups that prevented me from enjoying this one as much as I could have. So please read this with an open mind and know that I actually do think In a Dark, Dark Wood is a good read, and I was able to see the real potential. In fact, I will still watch this film.
It is also probably fair to mention, as I am sure I have in the past, that thrillers and mysteries do not always sit well with me. Very few leave a lasting impression, and I tend to avoid them more often than not for this very reason. We each have a preferred genre and this is not mine, but I like to keep an open mind and branch out from time to time.
In a Dark, Dark Wood was off to a great start from page one, however. The writing was clean and fluid. This was an easy and somewhat fast paced read. The author was able to convey all important details while avoiding repetitiveness or unnecessary tidbits. I am not a fan of unnecessary tidbits.. ugh.
We start by following the lead character Nora as she runs through the woods in frantic desperation. Why? We do not know, but it has opened up the story with enough excitement to genuinely set the appropriate pace for a thriller.
This is another story that alternates between past events and present. Although when I say past, I literally mean within a day or two. The narration works perfectly for maintaining interest and momentum. I am quickly becoming a huge fan of alternating narration when it has been applied properly. And Ruth Ware has managed to do just that. The alternations occur at just the right moments, and at the beginning of a new chapter so that the transition is smooth and very defined.
The initial story starts of full of questions and piques the readers curiosity just as any good mystery should. I needed to know more. Why has our protagonist been invited to the bachelorette party when she was not even invited to the wedding!? What has happened between her, Clare and James (you will learn more of him as the story progresses, I promise). Yep.. yep.. this is all good stuff. I excitedly tore through the first 200 or so pages before my hang-ups started coming into play.
Hang-up numero uno: disappointing lead character.
I realized that while I did not dislike Nora, I did not particularly care about her either. As a character, she was weak. There was nothing about her or her past that really connected with me, and honestly I did not care how it ended for her (harsh I know). It was not a hatred, but more of a neutrality. Maybe others will find themselves more sympathetic. I just didn’t connect.
Hang-up number two: predictability.
I had convinced myself of the ending with well over 100 pages to go. Sigh.. this just seems too early to have established a hypothesis when the book has not even truly identified what has happened (remember we are jumping back and forth in the time line). I believe that mystery novels are written with the intention of providing just enough clues to encourage the reader to formulate their own theories. This is part of the entertainment value, the whole “who dunnit” aspect. But the real fun lies within the great reveal to see if your prediction is correct.
I knew I was, there were no doubts. It felt as if this was a “gimme”. So in short, I felt cheated 😦
Final hang-up: less than stellar ending:
Although, there were a few little twists, it just never achieved the “wow” factor. I blame this solely on the predictability. Ending is everything for me, and ultimately this is why I was unable to give a full 4 stars.
I am giving this one 3.5 stars actually. There was still a mysterious vibe happening, and I feel I derived enough entertainment from the reading experience that I was almost able to overlook my lack of love for Nora and my time spent was justified. Even though final events were foreseeable, this is written considerably well and I feel that fans of the mystery/thriller genre will find more value in this title than I was able to. I am particularly recommending this to those who enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ & 1/2