“People don’t change,” Nina said bitterly. “They just get more punctilious about hiding their true selves.”
Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015)
Nora hasn’t seen Clare since she was sixteen-years-old. Now, she’s a twenty-six year old crime writer living in London. Out of the blue she’s invited to Clare’s hen weekend at a house deep in the woods but not her wedding. She’s torn between reconnecting with her childhood friend and leaving the past behind her. Despite the ten years of silence she feels obligated to the friend who helped her through a painful break-up and with Clare’s intense maid of honour pressuring her to respond, she caves and decides to go.
But she soon regrets her decision after arriving at the remote house with her old school friend, Nina. With no phone signal and a house made mostly of glass, Nora feels trapped and perhaps she’s right. The novel starts when Nora wakes in the hospital badly injured and certain something terrible has happened. In order to piece together what went on that weekend she has to confront her past.
In a Dark, Dark Wood is a suspenseful crime thriller that moves between the present – Nora’s time in hospital- and her fragmented memories of the hen party. Chapters cut off at crucial moments which meant I often read forty pages when I meant to read twenty. The hen party starts tense but not unusual with pizzas, alcohol and drinking games, making the mystery of how everything could deteriorate so quickly an enticing read.
I had some scruples about Nora as the book progressed. The Past holds a secret she’s desperate to keep hidden but then alludes to it almost obsessively, like a friend who announces they have something to tell you but they can’t tell you what it is. The secret involves her break-up with her boyfriend James ten years before- the man who is now marrying Clare. It’s hinted at so heavily that when the big reveal finally happened I was more relieved than shocked. I felt the relationship should have started and ended a few years on when they were eighteen or twenty. I know the situation around their break-up was traumatic, but who mopes ten years down the line about the boy they dated at sixteen? Nora’s idealistic view of Clare also baffled me when her memories showed Clare to be manipulative and cruel.
The anticipation kept me reading throughout but in the end, I felt the characters were a little to black-and-white. I wanted the lines between hero and villain to be less clear cut.