Whenever I read books about a group of strangers meeting in an isolated place and being thrust into a horror story, I often can’t help but roll my eyes. If you remember my review of ‘The Rules’ in October, you may recall it kind of left a foul taste in my mouth. It was by no means terrible, but it left me wanting more variety and depth. I wanted an original story with new characters, a sense of chilling atmosphere, and be genuinely scared and care for the characters.
Well…Ruth Ware’s chilling novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ is that book.
For the past ten years, Leonora has lived as a reclusive writer in her London flat. In-between writing her crime fiction novels and going on jogs, she doesn’t have that much of
a social life and prefers a quiet life. However, after getting inviting to a hen night (for clarity, it’s a British term for a bachelorette party) by one of her old university friends named Clare (who’s marrying the main character’s ex), Leonora reluctantly goes to the address and finds herself in an eerie glass house in the middle of the woods.
Joined with her are several other old friends of Clare’s, including Leonora’s current best friend named Nina, who start off having fun on the weekend until night falls. They include a gay friend named Tom, a recent mother named Melanie, and also Clare’s BFF named Flo. Then and there, everyone slowly begins to realize something: they aren’t alone, and someone is hiding a secret.
Forty-eight hours later, Leonora wakes up in the hospital with no memory and a policewoman outside her room. All she can ask is, “What happened?”
Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ is probably well known for the fact it has made this kind of story popular with horror stories. I appreciate it for that, but I always disliked how the book never took the time to fully introduce the personalities present. If we do not know the people in the story, it won’t impact us on the reveal of the killer. ‘The Rules’ held this same problem too, and that was supposed to be for teens. Luckily, ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ doesn’t shy away from answering our questions like, “who are the characters?”
Leonora’s an introvert, a cynic, and is the type who likes to write whenever she can. Nina’s snarky, a smart-mouth, but also has a sense of camaraderie when it comes to best friends. Flo’s a pencil-pusher, a smiling façade, an insecure woman who likes to talk more about Clare than herself. Melanie’s a housewife, a polite eccentric, the type of young woman you’d meet at the grocery store. Tom’s an easy guy, an actor, a gay man who doesn’t like to be flamboyant and show off his sexuality.
And Clare, good God don’t get me started on Clare.
Ruth Ware blends in a beautiful mixture of psychological horror and a therapist’s depth into the flaws of these several people. The writing style is conscious toward displaying the insecurities and venting anger of each individual at the hen night, and does not shy away from adult jokes and adult lessons. I love how this novel can be for both adults and early college students not because it says the f-word or makes sex jokes, but because ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ comments on thoughts most young adults and post-college students think about: Who am I as a person? Am I different from my school years? Can ten years change a person? Are your friends really friends? And this novel beautifully talks about them while having a vague mystery and brilliant setting.
The idea of having this take place in a white glass house in the middle of the woods is not only brilliant, but lends itself to chilling atmosphere and mental imagery. The narrative and pacing cleverly paints Leonora’s uneasiness with being in a building with no walls and only a view of the dirty woodlands. As said in the book, it felt like being on a stage and exposed.
I will admit though, there are some flaws. It isn’t huge though, but the middle of the book tended to drag on regarding when the girls (and Tom) confront the stalker outside. The buildup was good, and the reveal was a good twist of who the mastermind was, yet everything before that kind of felt like a couple of filler chapters.
However, I much highly recommend this, even if you aren’t into the psychological mystery genre. I probably move this more and put it over Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ not only because of having likeable character, but also having a good mystery and outcome. Dripping with modern gothic atmosphere and several memorable characters we can relate to, as well as an unnerving sense of being watched, Ruth Ware gives us a mysterious tour ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’.
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