In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (2016) | Discussion, Recommendations and Spoilers | Book Reviews
In a Dark, Dark Wood is a mystery fiction book written by Ruth Ware and published on July 12, 2016 by Simon & Schuster. The book is 354 pages and is available as paperback, hardcover, an e-book and as an audiobook.
In a Dark, Dark Wood (2016) begins from the perspective of Leonora, a writer who lives in London, England. We learn that Leonora, who goes by the nickname, Nora, lives alone and loves her quiet life. She spends her mornings running, drinking coffee and checking her e-mails. One morning, while checking her e-mails, she discovers an e-mail inviting her to an old friend's hen party (bachelorette party).
It turns out the old friend, whose name is Clare, was Nora's best friend in primary school and high school until Nora moved away and lost contact. Nora and Clare still have a mutual friend named Nina, who Nora still speaks to and who also lives in London. Nina has been invited to the hen party as well and Clare asks if Nina is going. Nina tells Nora that she will go if Nora goes, so Nora agrees. Nora is hesitant to go as she hasn't seen Clare in ten years, but is also curious about how Clare has turned out.
The house the hen party is being hosted at is owned by Clare's friend Flo's aunt. Flo is the one hosting the hen party and claims she is the current best friend of Clare. The house is quite a distance from London, so Nina and Nora take a train and a rented car out to the estate. When they arrive, they find that the house is situated next to a protected forest and is very modern as it is mostly windows.
Nina and Nora are greeted outside by Flo, who tells them that the other two guests who agreed to come to the hen party have not arrived yet and that Clare will be arriving later. Nina and Nora are given a tour of the house and are directed to the room they will be sharing, as there are not enough rooms for everyone to have a single room. Slightly disappointed, they go to their room and drop off their belongings.
The other two guests arrive while they are upstairs and they descend the stairs to meet them. One guest, has recently had a baby as is very anxious about leaving him at home for the first time with her husband. She knows Clare from university, so she is a fairly new friend of Clare's. The other friend knows both Clare and her fiance from their jobs in theatre, so he is also a fairly recent friend of Clare's.
Although both guests seem pleasant enough, Nora finds herself anxious about Clare's arrival, so she decides to go running, even though she doesn't know the area and the sun has set. Clare sets off on her run, with directions from Flo as to where the safest places to run are. As she is running, a car comes down the driveway and stops. As Nora peers into the car, she is surprised to see Clare, who invites her to get in the car so she can drive Nora back to the house.
Nora accepts the invitation and gets in the car, only to have Clare surprise her with the news that Clare's fiance is James, an old boyfriend of Nora's. We learn that Nora and James dated in high school for a few months and they had a bad break up that led to Nora leaving the school and moving to another part of England. We are led to believe that Clare knows why Nora felt that she needed to leave the school and break up with James, but we are not given a reason until much later.
As Nora and Clare arrive at the house, Flo greets Clare very happily and declares that she wants the hen party to be perfect for Clare. As the party begins, we see that Clare has some need to lord her engagement to James over Nora. It makes one question what exactly happened between Nora, Clare and James in high school and why Nora left and never spoke to Clare or James again. The rest of the book follows Nora and Clare and we finally discover what happened between them all those years ago.
If You Like This Book, You May Also Like:
Nightwood by Patricia Windsor (2009)
Penpal by Dathan Auerbach (2012)
Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates (2014)
Buttonboy by Joe Hill (2015) (Short story in the book, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill)
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020)
* Discussion contains spoilers
Ugh, I really did not like this book. I thought that it took forever to explain something that wasn't that complicated. I didn't really find myself liking any of the characters except for Nina, and even then I had some issues liking her in parts.
I thought that what was going to happen was Clare somehow meddled in Nora and James' relationship in high school and that's why Nora left, basically over some kind of miscommunication and she was lording her "victory" over Nora. I fully expected James to show up after discovering what Clare had done all those years ago and Nora and James would get together again.
Except... I was wrong about the last part because James got a shotgun blast to the chest by Flo and Nora was blamed for it. You're probably like, "Wtf? How did that come to pass?" Yeah, me too. Let me explain what happened.
After what felt like hours of reading and several years of my life wasted, I finally got the end of the book and was pretty frustrated. It turns out that in high school, Nora and James got pregnant and James was scared and wishy-washy about deciding to keep it, choose adoption or abortion. Nora felt very alone in the decision (she chose abortion) and received a text from James saying that it was her choice, her problem and he never wanted to talk to her again.
We find out later that Clare had a crush on James in high school and seeing as how she was basically a narcissistic sociopath, she thought that she deserved everything she wanted, regardless of the circumstances. Clare was extremely jealous that Nora started dating James and wanted desperately for them to break up. When Nora told Clare she was pregnant and James was being a douchebag, Clare saw her chance to permanently break them up, so she sent the text to Nora, not James.
James and Nora, being idiots, never tried to contact each other after that text, so no one found out the truth until Clare told James one night after they had been engaged for some time. I personally hate when authors use the whole, "It was a miscommunication!" plot. It feels implausible and it's just bad writing.
If I was knocked up by some guy and he sent me a bullshit text, saying blah, blah, blah it's your problem, I'd send him a text back telling him to get his shit together or he's going to have a whole world of problems. At the very least, accompany Nora to the abortion appointment, even if you don't want to be with her. On Nora's end, you don't just slink away because some guy is like, OMG I can't deal with life, blah, blah. If you have sex (several hundred times by Nora's weirdo obsessive count), be ready to deal with any and all consequences. I know some teenagers are dumb, but this was so aggravating to read.
We also find out that James gave Clare an ultimatum saying that she had to admit to Nora that she sent the text, not James. Clare being a narcissist, would rather James take a dirt nap than admit she did something wrong, so she convinces Flo to steal Nora's phone and send James texts, telling him to drive to the house.
We learn that Flo and Clare had been trying to make it look like someone had been prowling around the property earlier. Flo's aunt had a shotgun loaded with blanks used to scare rabbits off the property, so Flo grabbed the shotgun, thinking she could scare the "intruder" who walked into the house with the blanks. Except Clare switched the shells with real shells and shoots James in the chest, effectively turning James into Bolognese.
Clare confesses everything to Nora, but drugs her and makes it look like Nora tried to kill Clare in a car accident to cover up her jealously and the murder of James. Both end up in the hospital, with Clare pretending to be out of it so she doesn't have to talk to the police and Nora having real amnesia, trying to piece together what happened. Eventually Nora gets her memory back and everything gets figured out. Clare gets in trouble and Nora goes back home to London to live her quiet, boring life.
What went through my head when I finished the book was when that old woman in the film The Princess Bride (1987) booed Princess Buttercup. I wondered how a book relatively short (for me, I read pretty fast) could be so bad and feel so long. Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020) was almost exactly the same length (352 pages) and I didn't feel like it was drawn out or had a bullshit explanation for the events in the book. It really shows me that it just comes down to writing and talent.
I will say, this book did have promise. The setting sounded creepy; a house in the woods, isolated and strangers with secrets. The house not having curtains in some rooms made it creepier because anyone could be outside, watching everyone inside. Turns out that's all it had going for it in my opinion.
Have you read this book? Did you like it? Did you dislike it? What are your thoughts? What did you like? What could it have improved upon? Please share your thoughts below!