This review, that originally appeared in Critics at Large, is reproduced here because as a psychological mystery, it is about a cohort of mid-twenty-year olds who attend a hen party in which a line of darkness is crossed.
|Ruth Ware's debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, was published last summer by Simon & Schuster. (Photo: Ollie Grove)
In the week before the recent American election, I was feeling anxious – with good reason, as it turned out. Despite the polls, I felt a need to escape the tumult about the election. The World Series did not particularly interest me so I decided to dip into an absorbing page turner that would distract me. I found that Ruth Ware’s debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood (Simon & Schuster, 2015), satisfied my needs.
The narrator, Leonora Shaw, a reclusive crime writer, receives an email from someone she has not met inviting her to attend a hen weekend (a bachelorette weekend, in North American parlance) to celebrate the upcoming wedding of an old college friend at a house in the Northumberland English countryside. Nora – the various names that she and others affix to her are an important ingredient of the plot – living alone in London and valuing her privacy, has no interest in spending time with people she does not or hardly knows. Nora is uncertain as to why she has been invited since she and the bride-to-be, Clare, once best friends, now estranged, haven’t seen each other since college ten years earlier. Furthermore, she has not been invited to the wedding. She doesn’t even know who Clare is marrying and she does not ask. If Nora had, she would not have attended the party – but then there would have been no novel, or a very different one. (This question is raised at one point in the story.) But maid of honour, Flo, is insistent that Clare wants her there, and maybe it would be pleasurable to reconnect after all these years. Reluctantly, Nora agrees, but as soon as she arrives at this remote, modernist glass house, we know that this is not the kind of getaway that she anticipated. Things go terribly wrong: old tensions arise, tempers fray, painful secrets from the past spill out, an ominous shotgun hangs on the fireplace wall, and an intruder enters followed by a tragedy.