Book report: Ruth Ware ‘In a dark dark forest’
In a Dark Dark Forest is the thriller debut of the British Ruth Ware (1977), which is filmed by Reese Witherspoon. Nora receives an invitation to the bachelorette party from Clare, her childhood friend whom she has not seen or spoken to in ten years. Her friend Nina convinces her to come along, but Nora immediately regrets that when she learns that Clare is going to marry her ex-boyfriend James. Which creates an uncomfortable atmosphere, especially when she ends up in the hospital and cannot remember much of what exactly happened. It gets worse when she’s also suspected of murder. Who is playing a game with her and why?
- Main characters
- Symbols and motifs
- Title explanation
- Structure and perspective / way of telling
- Time and place
- Original title: In a dark, dark wood
- Dutch title: In a dark dark forest
- Author: Ruth Ware
- First busy in English: 2015
- First edition translated into Dutch: 2016
- Translation: Hanneke van Soest
- Number of pages: 317
- ISBN: 978-90-245-7076-8
Nora is in the hospital and cannot remember anything other than the fact that a gun had been fired. During a conversation in the hall, she hears that a murder has been committed. She tries to remember everything, and Detective Lamarr, who is running the case, also asks her to think hard in the hope that they will find out exactly what happened.
It all started with the invitation. Nora had received an invitation to Clare’s bachelorette party. Nothing special in itself, but Nora hadn’t been in touch with Clare in ten years and hadn’t been invited to the wedding. But Nina, a childhood friend, motivated her to get together and survive the weekend. Nora accepted the invitation, although she was a bit suspicious.
Together with Nina she left for the destination where they were going to celebrate the bachelor party together for a weekend. It was a modern house, with lots of glass, that seemed completely out of place in the forest where it stood. Flo, the bridesmaid and weekend organizer, had invited everyone to her aunt’s country retreat a little earlier, so they could get to know each other before Clare arrived. In this way Nora got to know Melanie, a fellow student of Clare’s, and Tom, who had met Clare through his husband.
The moment Nora finally saw Clare, the conversation started uncomfortably. Nora eventually found the courage to ask her why she was invited. Clare explained to her that it seemed painful to invite her to the wedding. But she also didn’t want Nora to learn from anyone that Clare was going to marry James. He had been in a relationship with Nora once, but it had not gone well and a long time ago. Which didn’t mean Nora was indifferent to the news she’d just heard.
Melanie, unable to understand that there was no signal in and around the house, while she was constantly wanting to call home to find out how her baby was, left home the next day. She’d found the landline dead, which was the last straw for her.
Nina suggested she leave too when she learned that Nora did not know that Clare was getting married to James. Nina thought it was a mean trick and something typical of Clare too. But Nora did not want to create drama and suggested to stay normal. They made the most of it and tried to stay as positive as possible during lunch, which only discussed the wedding, the clay pigeon shooting that Flo loved and the evening activity: the Ouija board.
But then it went wrong, Flo reported in a mysterious way that she knew all kinds of things about everyone. Nina and Nora suspected that Clare had told her things, but the question is what. Nina didn’t trust Clare either, because she was always thinking about herself. Both Nora and Nina wanted to get away from the tense atmosphere and the dramas and decided to leave earlier the next day.
At night they all heard a strange noise in the house and discovered an open door and footsteps in the house. Nora was accused of not having locked the door last. While she was convinced she had. At first glance, nothing had disappeared. Nina couldn’t find her phone right away, but she suspected it was still in the car.
A little later they were startled again by a noise. Nora went into the hall and discovered the others, Flo was holding one of her aunt’s blanks guns. They discovered a tall man and in a panic, Flo shot. But then it turned out that the gun was loaded with real bullets.
Nora went down first and found out the man was James. Noticing that he was badly injured, Nina tried to do everything she could to avoid dying. Meanwhile, James tried to speak to Nora. He asked if Clare had told her, said something about a text message, and was sorry. But then he lost consciousness.
They decided to take him to a hospital. It seemed like a good idea to bring Nina as she’s a doctor, but Clare left alone. And from then on it starts to get blurry. Nora remembers that she went for a walk through the forest.
At the hospital, Nora learns that Clare had an accident that left James dead and Clare herself is not well off either. James’s witness tells her that things were not going well between them and that he does not understand what James was doing in the house. The idea of a murder being discussed frightens Nina and Nora. Nina gives the tip to Nora to tell everything about James. But Nora has her doubts, because she and James are the only ones who know exactly what happened ten years ago. When it turned out that Nora was pregnant, James had ended their relationship via a stupid text message. Nora decided not to keep the child and to leave the school and everyone she was in contact with at the time.
The next day, Detective Lamarr returns to ask if the phone she’s holding is Nora’s. If she answers yes, she will be told she is being charged with murder. She is presented with a series of text messages sent between her and James on her phone. The detective speculates that Nora had lured him into the house to get revenge on him and Clare. For example, she had walked behind the car to drive and then fight with Clare.
But Nora is convinced that she has nothing to do with it and that someone wanted to destroy her, James and Clare. But who? She escapes from the hospital with the aim of finding out what exactly happened. She returns to the house, where she tries to remember things. When Clare had left, Nora had found and grabbed her coat, there she had found the blank. But somehow it doesn’t make sense because Clare couldn’t have sent the first messages. Flo would do anything for Clare, but kill too?
Nora wants to think about it but first wants to get some sleep. At night she wakes up from noises in the house and discovers that someone is inside, it is Clare. While Clare makes tea and tells her all about it, Nora finally gets it. The text message didn’t come from James ten years ago. Because he spoke to her as Leo, while Lee was in the text message. Clare admits she sent the text because she saw that the relationship between James and Nora had no future.
A few weeks ago she had also told James, who had reacted angrily and wanted to call off the marriage. He might forgive her if Clare confessed everything to Nora. So she promised to do it over the weekend. But nothing could be further from the truth. Clare’s bubble of the ideal relationship had burst and someone had to pay. So James had to die and Nora would be blamed. Nora understands that she will be Clare’s next victim when she is dizzy and notices that something has been put in her tea.
Driven by the desire to live, she flees the house and starts walking like crazy despite the pain. She hears Clare start the car and hopes she gets to the road faster than her. When she is there she hears the sound of an accident. Detective Lamarr drove Clare off the road. When Nora sees the detective, she knows she’s been saved and collapses.
At the hospital, the detective explains to Nora that she is no longer a suspect. They know what Clare did and she will pay for it. Nora feels sorry for Flo, who unknowingly joined Clare’s murder game by sending the first innocent text messages to James. But she is satisfied that she can return home and live her own life again.
Nora, short for Leonora and named Lee or Leo as a child. She lives alone and works as a writer. Twenty-six-year-old Nora writes under the name LN Shaw. Nora loves to run and tries to do this every day. She had known Clare since she was five. She has also been friends with Nina for a long time.
She had gone to high school with Clare and Nora. She is a doctor in training to become a surgeon. Nina says what she thinks and can be very sarcastic. She is in a relationship with Jess.
She is twenty-six years old. Clare gives the impression that she likes to bring out the best in people.
He is twenty-seven years old and married to director Bruce Westerly. Tom is a playwright himself.
She recently became a mother and is away from home for the first time after the birth of her son Ben. Melanie is the oldest of the group at twenty-eight.
She’d studied art history with Clare, and they’d lived in the same dorm with Melanie. Flo is a perfectionist and wants everything to go according to her plan. If this doesn’t happen she turns into a real drama queen. She has little self-confidence.
Symbols and motifs
Nora realizes it would have been a bad idea to go to the bachelorette weekend. She doesn’t know why Clare wants to contact her again after ten years. She doesn’t know the other people either and she doesn’t know if they know anything about her past.
Nora is afraid that the police will find out because someone is dead. Since she can’t remember anything, she fears she has killed someone. But why and who?
Nora knows James through and through. She has always loved him, despite not seeing him for ten years. But she’d thought of him every day, despite her anger that he’d ended their relationship.
Despite her sympathetic appearance, Clare has no intention of helping the people at all. She plays theater to get her way. And if not, people need to be punished in some way.
The setting is a mysterious villa in the middle of a forest, which is a reference to the title and the book cover. The title of the original English version ‘In a dark, dark wood’ is a reference to a folk song written out at the beginning of the book:
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.
Don’t be fooled by a sweet appearance.
Structure and perspective / way of telling
The book is dedicated to Kate. The story consists of 317 pages, which are divided into a prologue and 36 chapters. The story represents Nora’s point of view written in I person.
Time and place
The story takes place in the past (the bachelorette weekend) and in the present (the hospital) in Northumberland.
The story starts with an exciting prologue that gets you right in the story. The story is built up from rippling exciting to very exciting. By revealing a little bit each time, you will continue to read on with interest. The characters are well described and a lot of attention is paid to the details. The chapters are not too long, but there is a difference between the chapters that take place during the weekend and those when Nora is in the hospital. Due to the somewhat simple writing style, you can easily read through the story. A real page turner!
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