I found this book whilst re-shelving books at my place of work and was immediately intrigued by the premise – Leonora, our protagonist, attends a cozy, bachelorette party for her ex-best friend Clare, but the weekend takes a dark turn when two days later Leonora wakes up in the hospital with the knowledge that someone is dead, and she can’t be sure she’s not responsible. The events of the weekend are foggy and in order to find out what has happened, Leonora must “re-visit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.” The book was written by UK author Ruth Ware in 2015, and because of her latest novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, which was being promoted throughout my workplace, I thought I would read her debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood and then move on to The Woman in Cabin 10, especially since I thought the premise of Dark Wood actually sounded more intriguing than Cabin 10.
The book cover itself is chilling and textured with raised lettering and creepy-looking twigs. Reese Witherspoon’s blurb on it warns, “Prepare to be scared…really scared!” O Magazine’s blurb claims it contains “Gillian Flynn-style trickery,” and the synopsis assures me “this gripping thriller will have readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.”
I was on the edge of my seat all right…as I slipped into a deep sleep out of how bored I was. And how dare O Magazine compare this to Gillian Flynn’s stories – Flynn puts way, way more thought into her plots than this.
As I read, the more things were revealed, the worse it got. This book is not scary, it’s not chilling, it’s not thrilling, it’s definitely not a psychological thriller, it’s not a horror – at most it’s a light mystery. And a bad one at that.
Clare and Leonora are ex-best friends. They haven’t seen each other since they were 16 after a falling out between Leonora and her then boyfriend, James – who is now engaged to Clare. Leonora has no idea why Clare would invite her to the bachelorette party for Clare and James’s wedding, but Leonora attends anyway, and bad things ensue.
The story is told in first-person narrative and at first, Leonora doesn’t reveal why it is she has issues with Clare; we aren’t really sure what happened all those years ago and I was intrigued to see how and what would reveal. However, when it became clear that the issue revolved around a boy, namely James, I had to roll my eyes. Of course their issues between each other has to involve a guy…because girls can’t have any original, unique personal problems, it always has to do with sex, romance, relationships, and/or men. I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of complex, twisted issues would arise between Clare and Leonora, but this revelation was the first of many disappointing ones, and I knew I was in for a dissatisfying read.
But I had to keep going because I still didn’t know what the issue was between Leonora and James that she kept endlessly referring to without telling us – which by the way is a fallacy in the narrative. Since it’s told in first-person, there’s no way Leonora would think about something without revealing what it actually is, and since we’re in her head, hearing all of her thoughts and feelings, we would know everything she’s thinking. Especially this thing that James did that has so deeply affected her all these years – it was simply a very unrealistic first-person thought process. Which is why I strongly think this book would have been executed far better if it were told in third-person, that and because I also found the first-person writing to be bland, one-dimensional, boring, lazy, and annoying.
Not only do Leonora’s personal hardships revolve around a guy, but they revolve around a guy that she was dating when she was 16 – she is now 26. What kind of grown woman, or man for that matter, would still allow themselves to be so emotionally affected and socially stunted by something that happened during their teenage years a decade ago? Leonora reveals that she’s had unsuccessful, unhappy relationships ever since her debacle with James, and that she still misses him, and thinks about him, and cries over him, and gets angry over him – still, after all this time! I have to say, I didn’t care for Leonora in the least. She was weak-minded, dull, wimpy, and pathetic. But mostly she was unbelievable – it was hard to believe after a decade she still would’t have healed and moved on and been happier in her life by now, especially since when it finally is revealed what James did, though it was mean, it hardly justifies Leonora’s weak behaviour after all this time.
We learn early on that Leonora is a successful author and writer at age 26 – but I didn’t buy it. She’s supposedly working on a new novel and is procrastinating sending the new pages to her editor – oh the carefree life of a writer – as she’s too distraught with the invitation to Clare’s party and painful re-emerging thoughts of James, but I don’t think I recall at any point in the novel where she actually sat down and wrote or did anything career related. I’m not gonna lie, I could be wrong – I did a lot of skimming towards the end as I my patience waned – but nonetheless, she didn’t seem at all believable as a writer. I think this is largely because of the first-person narrative. It’s interesting when the protagonist of a story is a writer, because if it’s in first-person, they’re narrating exactly what we’re reading, so one might imagine that the character has written it themselves, yet because In a Dark, Dark Wood wasn’t written particularly well, it didn’t add to Leonora’s authority as a writer – which is another reason I think it should have been in third-person, to avoid this strange, meta effect and distance Leonora’s ‘abilities’ as a writer.
The last thing I’ll point out is the random hint of a romance thrown in at the end to give the sense of a ‘happy ending.’ It seemed cliched and rather disempowering as yet again, of course a woman can’t have a happy ending to her narrative without a man in it or the hint of successful romantic relationship…
The whole thing was just a big mess, a struggle to read from start to finish with mediocre writing and a dull, whiny protagonist. But most of all, I think the biggest problem with this book was the plot and story itself and the character fallacies. It had so much potential to be some kind of weird, complex story with deep, psychological roots from the past – but really, it was just two girls fighting over a man. I would hope Ruth Ware’s writing and story plotting has improved by now, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up The Woman in Cabin 10 anytime soon.
I have to say though, the marketing team for this book did a fantastic job. They really had me going.