Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

“She had what I craved: that all-encompassing self-possession. Even standing in her shadow I’d felt stronger. But not anymore.”

When I really, really love an author, I try to read their entire repertoire of books. I first picked up Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 earlier this summer, and then followed with her new book, The Lying Game, courtesy of Ruth Ware, NetGalley, and the publisher. Her writing is superb, her plot keeps me on the edge of my seat, and her characters are multi-layered and nuanced.

In a Dark, Dark Wood did not disappoint. I was a little worried when I read negative reviews of it, but once again Ware’s writing and characters grabbed me. The main character is Nora, a crime fiction writer who lives alone in London. Her quiet, structured life as a writer and avid runner is upended when she receives an email invitation to attend a childhood friend’s bachelorette party (or “hen” party).

She feels uncomfortable accepting the invitation as she hasn’t spoken to this friend, Clare, for 10 years. She notices that another friend from her youth, Nina, was on the invite, and asks that friend if she plans on attending. The two agree to attend the party together, though they both question Clare’s motivations for inviting them after failing to keep in touch for so long. The invitation notes that the party will be held over the course of a weekend at Clare’s friend’s house in a remote, woodsy location.

When Nora arrives at the house, she immediately feels uneasy. Something is wrong with the setting, and the house amplifies Nora’s discomfort. Ware provides numerous haunting descriptions of the house and its surroundings, making the reader feel like something terrible is going to take place at any moment. Here is a couple of those richly detailed passages:

“Perhaps then it was a house for looking out of, across the forest. But now, in the dark, it felt like the opposite. It felt like a glass display case, full of curiosities to be peered at. Or a cage in a zoo.”

“When I opened my eyes, the light blazing from the house onto the snow hurt my retinas. It was so brash, so wasteful – like a golden lighthouse, beaming its presence into the darkness. Only a lighthouse was to tell ships to keep away. This place was more like a beacon, like a lantern drawing in the moths.”

The odd mix of friends invited to the party also raises a red flag for Nora. Why did Clare summon Nora here after 10 years of not talking? Who are these “friends” of Clare’s who seem so different from one another? Is Clare the person that Nora recalls from her school days?

The book’s crescendo involves a murder, and Nora becomes one of the suspects. To solve the murder and be found innocent, Nora must reconsider her past and every single thing she thought she knew about Clare and Nina.

If you like Ware’s newest book, The Lying Game, you will like In a Dark, Dark Wood. Both books feature smart female leads who must refract events taking place in the present tense through the lens of their youth. Both characters come out stronger and more secure in who they are as individuals as a result of such reflections.

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