Published: 31st December 2015
Trigger warnings: Drug use, sexual references, attempted suicide
Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back.
Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.
But something goes wrong.
And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.
In many ways, I found this to be a book of two halves. Early on, an interesting premise was rather dragged down by a group of characters who ranged from unlikable to insufferable. However, the plot gradually develops into something enjoyably gripping and suspenseful so that by the end, I was left reflecting on a decent debut novel.
A fast-paced beginning does a good job of establishing the basic essentials of the story. Ten years ago, full-time author Nora lost contact with her former best friend, Clare. Out of nowhere, she receives an email inviting her to Clare’s hen party, and she decides to go despite not knowing the identity of Clare’s husband-to-be.
Still traumatised by the past, Nora is affected by mysterious goings-on at the party, until she is involved in a serious accident. This is hinted at early on in the book, and the second half focuses on the aftermath of the accident, delightfully casting every character under suspicion until a tense and dramatic ending.
It is here where the story becomes extremely fascinating, and great attention to detail is needed to work out what really happened. You need to wait some time to get there, but a major twist arrives, creating sky-high tension for the remaining chapters of the book, and I was totally invested in it even if the final revelation was a tad predictable.
The entire book is told from the first person perspective of Nora. She was at times frustrating and a little careless, but compared to several of the other characters, I quite liked her. There are moments where you are made to wonder if she is an unreliable narrator, which added to the mystery.
Most of the other characters I found impossible to connect with. There is an argument to say that Clare and Flo are not especially believable, but their respective natures do eventually add something to the story. My favourite supporting character has to be the police officer, Lamarr, who was mostly kind and compassionate.
The events of the book take place almost exclusively in two main settings. One of them is the hospital where Nora ends up following the accident. The other is the secluded glass house where the hen party takes place. At first I felt that the house was not given enough of a dark or creepy atmosphere, but that is certainly made up for towards the end.
The writing style is fairly brisk throughout, and the short chapters helped to make it a reasonably quick read. The first-person narrative is engaging and thoughtful, while there is even the odd occasion where it breaks the fourth wall. In terms of the plot, Ruth Ware does use a lot of creative licence to make it work!
Overall, this was a book that I struggled to enjoy at first, but improved to the extent that I was turning the pages compulsively later on. Despite the flaws and some contrived elements, I found plenty of things to like here and I shall certainly read more from Ruth Ware.
In A Dark Dark Wood was Ruth Ware’s debut novel, and she has since gone on to become one of the UK’s most popular and bestselling thriller authors. Her latest book, The Turn of the Key, was released in July 2019.
Before becoming an author, Ware worked as a waitress, a TEFL teacher, and a press officer. Born in Sussex and having studied at Manchester University, she now lives in North London.
A frustrating read to begin with that eventually develops into a reasonably good book with a lot of suspense all round.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐