May 09

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark WoodIn a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

The author of this book also wrote The Girl in Cabin 10, which I read earlier this year and quite enjoyed. This psycho-thriller combines the well-known horror trope of a cabin in the woods, and the equally horrifying (but for a different reason) event of a bridal shower, or “hen do” as they call it. The cabin is also made almost entirely of glass, a modern monstrosity that some people like but which I (like Nora) find very, very uncomfortable.

It starts out having a kind of Agatha Christie vibe. Everyone is in the house, and people all have backstories and back histories with one another that they may not want revealed, and when footprints mysteriously lead from the house to the garage and no one admits it, Nora wonders who she can trust. And, classically, there’s a shotgun on the wall, which you just know will be used before the end of the book, because the chapters that take place in the cabin are interspersed with chapters in which the narrator is in the hospital trying to figure out how she got there and what happened and who died.

It’s an okay psycho-thriller, but not a great one. I feel like the tension wasn’t given adequate time to build, for one thing. Having one of the guests go home early was a nice twist, but while the footprints leading to the garage were eventually explained, that little detail didn’t build enough malicious foreboding. It all just moved a little too fast for me to really steep in the darkness.

I had some other problems with it too. Nora hasn’t seen James for ten years. She’s terribly broken up over him still, and yet in ten years she’s never called him. While it’s plausible that a woman of merely 26 would be so immature, it doesn’t make her more likeable. The fact that she never figured out she was being manipulated just makes her seem stupid. And why has she not contacted Clare for all those years? She never had a falling out with her friend deep enough to merit ghosting her. Was it just that she was so upset about THE AWFUL BREAKUP? If so, what a tool Nora is. I mean, seriously. You break up with someone when you’re 16 and then just stop talking to everyone from that period of time? Because reasons? And then your first act of reconnecting is when you agree to go to a bridal shower? She should have written in to Carolyn Hax. “Hello, I had a circle of friends that I ghosted ten years ago because I got my widdle heart bwoken when my boyfriend dumped me. Now they have invited me to a weekend getaway, should I go?” Um, hells to the no. How about “that’s a huge commitment, how about we just get together for coffee and see if we want to reconnect.” A weekend in a cabin is a lot to ask, and a bridal shower is its own kind of hell. It made me think of Nora as a not-very-bright, weak-willed loser with no common sense, few friends, and zero emotional resiliency. She does what anyone asks of her because she’s not strong enough to say no and because she doesn’t know what she wants. I wasn’t really rooting for her to succeed.

So, it’s an okay plot, but it’s not spectacular. The characters are kind of meh. Flo could be interesting, if we knew more of her backstory, and Nina was trying to be interesting but she just seemed like the sassy best friend trope. The plot was tight enough, but I feel like if it had been paced a little slower, we would have had more time for character development and to let the tension build. Worth a read if you want something escapist, but if you only have time for one, read The Girl in Cabin 10.

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