So I literally just finished In a Dark Dark Wood, the debut novel by Ruth Ware and I thought it was fantastic. It was one of those novels that I read in just over 24 hours. It felt like a very tight and menacing thriller, something that toyed with domestic noir but never quite fell into the genre completely. It felt incredibly fresh and confident for a debut novel, so much so that I almost wish I’d written it myself.
In a Dark Dark Wood follows Nora, a woman who has lost contact with many of her old school friends, and now lives in London making a living as a crime writer. It’s never really addressed whether she is successful or not, but she seems to be happy enough. One day, completely out of the blue, she gets an invitation to the hen party of Clare Cavendish, who used to be her best friend in school but who she hasn’t talked to for years. Tentatively, she accepts, and with the only friend she did keep in contact with, Nina, she goes to the hen party located in a house in the woods.
This house is the main setting of the novel and the cast of characters is limited to those invited to the hen party. I love limited casts and here there are only really five main characters. This gives Ware opportunity to really flesh them out, which she does extremely well. Nina is a ferocious spiky woman, who always stands her ground. Tom is a successful actor, with a playful side. Clare, the bride, is a loving yet slightly self-orientated young woman. And Flo is the eccentric and sometimes manic party host, who needs everything to go right for her best friend. However, Ware’s greatest creation is probably Nora herself, a damaged and unsure person who finds herself in a terrible situation.
The hen party in a remote location is a really nice set-up and justifies the fact that the narrative falls back on the old well-worn tropes such as ‘no phone signal’ and ‘miles away from anyone’ and ‘whoops, the landline’s dead’. Ware pulls it off, just because everything else is so good. The narrative moves along at a brisk pace, offering up clues and red herrings with an almost playful kind of certainty. There were quite a few moments where I thought I knew exactly what was going on, only to have the rug swept out from under me.
As with most books, there was a moment where I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying In a Dark Dark Wood. It was around the start of Act Three, where the narrative shifts forward slightly. However, this was only because I thought I’d figured everything out. In truth however, In a Dark Dark Wood has a lot of secrets to share and none of them are predictable. There’s no real twists (unless you would count a final reveal as a twist) but there are tens of little info drops which constantly reward you.
In a Dark Dark Wood is about a hen party, but it’s also about darkness – not just in the wood, but the darkness inside. And it’s about how that darkness can make us do terrible things to each other.
In a Dark Dark Wood is a fantastic debut novel that will keep you guessing to the final page. Ruth Ware plays with expectations with a playful sense of fun, making the tale of a hen party gone wrong not only immensely compelling but also a joy to read. If you’re a fan of crime fiction, there’s no reason not to pick this up. Put simply, I love this book. And I’m really excited to see what Ruth Ware does next.
IN A DARK DARK WOOD by RUTH WARE