Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

in a dark dark wood

Synopsis that won’t give away the ending:

Writer Leonora Shaw is unexpectedly invited to her high school best friend’s hen night (the UK’s version of a bachelorette party). The weird part is that Leonora, who now goes by Nora, hasn’t spoken to or seen Clare in ten years. Despite her initial hesitation, Clare ends up guilt tripped into attending three day weekend in a creepy glass house, located in a secluded forest hours away from her home in London. (Def doesn’t seem like the setting for a horrible murder or anything!!1! Everything is fine and normal!!) The novel opens with Nora running for her life, and trying to piece together the events of a gruesome night. As the novel unfolds, the reader is left trying to figure out what happened ten years ago between Nora and Clare, how she ended up battered and bruised in the hospital, and what the hell happened in the glass house?

The epigraph to Ware’s novel:

In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house;
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room;
And in the dark, dark room there was a dark, dark cupboard;
And in the dark, dark cupboard there was…a skeleton!
-traditional Halloween tale

Ruth Ware’s psychological thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood has been said to contain echoes of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and even house a few similarities to Agatha Christie novels. Although I enjoyed the novel, and the characters and plot were well thought out, I hesitate to fully support these claims for a few reasons; the first on being that I’ve read Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, but not Gone GirlThe Girl on the Train is currently in my TBR pile, and even though I certainly have plenty of options to choose from, I’ve yet to indulge in an Agatha Christie novel. Therefore, I can’t fully agree with comparisons to books I haven’t read because I have no basis with which to compare. The second reason being that even without reading the comparison novels, these feel like surface comparisons to me, focusing on the books’ general similarities in theme and tone rather than analyzing the more nuanced aspects of each on the level of character, dialogue, and plot development.

That being said, I can’t deny the fact that every time I put the book down I found a way back to sneak a few more pages in. Ware certainly knows how to pull her reader in and hold their interest – writing in the present tense, providing an unreliable narrator whose paranoias and suspicions find themselves in her readers’ minds, as well as creating characters who offer themselves as friends one minute and potential enemies the next.

At first I found it funny/a little odd that the blurb on the front cover was from Reese Witherspoon and read “Prepare to be scared…really scared!” However, after seeing that the back of the book stated “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” and remembering that Witherspoon recently created her own production company, Pacific Standard, a quick Google search confirmed that she will in fact will be the one developing a film adaptation along with New Line Cinema. Other movies produced with her partner Bruna Papandrea include “Gone Girl”, “Wild”, and “Hot Pursuit” (info via I wasn’t able to find any release date or casting info, but the article was from 2015, so I’ll update this post if any information is released any time this year.

The reason I hesitate to put Ware in the same category as Flynn and Christie isn’t necessarily because I don’t think she’s “good enough”, I just think that it’s a lot of hype to put on someone’s first novel. There are a few moments in In A Dark, Dark Wood that were a bit overwrought for me. Most of these moments tended to occur around times where Nora is trying to remember what happened that night. She’s struggling to connect the dots due to her amnesia which lead to internal dialogue like, “What happened next… Oh God. What happened next. I’m not sure I can…” and then I picture Nora slowly drifting off and dramatically staring into the distance squinting her eyes as she wracks her memory.  I understand that Ware is trying to convey the panic and the confusion of someone in this situation, and I can’t necessarily offer a better way to do so, it’s just moments like this where I was overtly aware of what Ware was trying to do that took me out of the moment for a bit.

Where Ware didn’t astound me with her writing, she made up for in her setting and characters. Although it’s a bit irritating how Nora hints so many times that “something” happened ten years ago, again I realize that it’s to keep the reader asking questions and craving answers. The other characters are given just enough background to make them believable without giving a full blown biography. The reader gets to the know the characters organically, in the same way that Nora would get to know them over a short period of time. This allows Ware to get her readers to align with a character and have that character gain their trust, while also allowing the reader to flip the script and question that trust once Nora points out that she’s either just met them or she hasn’t seen them in ten years. A person can change a lot in ten years, even someone who was once a best friend.

The idea of having a giant glass house in the middle woods is my favorite aspect of the novel. The thought of being secluded, surrounded only by a dark forest where anyone can see you without you seeing them is really the only ingredient needed in this recipe for paranoia and fear. I mean seriously, are there no curtains or blinds or anything in this place? What happens when the blinding sun comes blazing through? Maybe she mentioned it and I just missed it, but either way, the glass house in the middle of the woods is the ultimate setting for a novel like this. Having the novel set in the dead of winter as well, allowing mysterious footprints in the snow and little chance of escape in anything but a car – well done, Ware, well done indeed.

I feel like I can’t say much else without giving important info away, so I think I’ll end it here. If it wasn’t apparent by my critique/defense of this novel, I’m still on the fence about it. I think I have an issue with how much hype it’s received, and I may have had a different reading experience had I just randomly come across it in a bookstore and hadn’t heard anything about it, but who’s to say?

Like I said, it’s definitely an entertaining read that’s easy to devour in a day or two, so maybe give it a read for yourself and see what you think. I might read Gone Girl  and an Agatha Christie novel or two and then return to Ware in a few months to see if I still feel the same. I always feel weird when I don’t love a book, because I know how much time and effort so many people have put into it, but every book can’t be THE best book, so I’ll just have to get over it I suppose.

I’m still very into this true crime/psychological thriller kick so any recommendations in that vein are thoroughly welcomed!


Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate it, and you, immensely.


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