Ruth Ware’s premiere novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood was published in 2015, receiving grand acclaim, publication in over 40 territories , and Reese Witherspoon’s signing on to produce a film-version of the thriller.
However, I purchased the book because it was 20% off and it had no summary on the back, and I thought that that was intriguing. (Please don’t read on if you plan on reading the book, in which case, please ask to borrow me copy!)
The book opens with a brief introduction: “I am running.” (You’ll see later why that’s important. Foreshadowing, guys.) It’s a page long, rushed, and choppy. The reader doesn’t know who “I” is, what they’re running from, or who this James person that seems to serve as a motivation for said running.
…And the reader won’t know. At least not for awhile. Ware manipulates time and alternates the chapters between past and present: pre-bachelorette party, post-bachelorette party, and all the damage that happens in between.
It is in this way that we, the readers, are connected to Leonora (now Nora, née Lee). Like her, we do not know why she’s in the hospital. Obviously something has happened prior to the introduction that caused her to run, but something that left her drenched in blood and aching all over? Again, we won’t know. The first chapter is only one page; chapter two takes us back a couple months and gives us more details on our then-whole narrator.
Nora is a solitary person, and enjoys it that way. A writer, she finds solace in early, quiet mornings and long, winding runs. As she describes her morning, the word control appears multiple times.
Quickly we learn that this yearning for control is the result of a haunted and mysterious past. Nora is contacted by Flo, who is in charge Nora’s childhood best friend’s “hen” (which is just what they call bachelorette parties in the UK). Nora meets this invitation with apprehension– not only has she no clue who Flo is, but because she doesn’t know why she would be invited: apparently she abruptly left her’s and Clare’s hometown ten years prior and made no effort to retain relationships.
But Nora is confronted by the idea that perhaps ten years didn’t create too much distance between her and her former best friend, and she agrees to attend the hen, which will take place a month later.
Spoiler: things are weird. Flo, the maid of honor, is a knockoff Clare and is so desperate to impress her friend with the way in which she planned the festivities that she finds herself high-strung and spiraling when people are anything south of enthusiastic.
However, Nora cannot help but to feel unenthusiastic: immediately upon arrival she learns that she was invited to the hen so that Clare could tell Nora that she is marrying James (hey, there’s that name!)– Nora’s former beau and based on the girls’ conversation, a large attribution to the reason Nora dipped so long ago.
The next couple days happen quickly: the guests party with booze and cocaine, they go to a shooting range, they tamper with an Ouija board. The majority of guests know Clare from various points in life and aren’t all that familiar with one another. Tensions are high and the air is awkward. But just as the group begins to coincide, someone breaks into the home and is shot. James, Clare’s fiancé, Nora’s former flame, and apparently the intruder (???) has been killed, and Nora is to blame.
I’m not a huge mystery-thriller reader, but I did read this book in a three-hour sitting.
There’s something so attractive about the jumps in time that really hooked me in. I felt like I could never get comfortable with the narrative because of the way time was being manipulated. In this, I had so much information coming at me: why Nora let her home ten years prior; why Clare and Flo were acting so strangely at the hen; why the cops seem to sure Nora committed the murder; what happened to her and James so long ago.
Because it’s told in Nora’s first person point-of-view, it’s impossible to not get into her thoughts, however clouded and disassembled as they may be, as she struggles to recall the night’s events and clear her name.
Reese is on the money with this one, all, it’s certainly a page turner and comes heavily recommended by The LipLiner.