…but it probably sounds something like this… “GAAAHHHHH WHY UGH COMEON!!!”
That’s how I feel immediately after reading Tana French’s novel, In The Woods. Don’t let my outburst sway you, this was a GREAT book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It kept me on my toes in a way that didn’t overwhelm me. At times, it was mildly predictable, but remained intriguing and captivating throughout.
That’s how I felt, now here’s the juicy stuff (Warning: Don’t read this unless you like knowing the ending of books… In other words the next part contains SPOILERS)
The story is a first person account of a time in Detective Adam “Rob” Ryan’s career. The pinnacle, the “it” case. A twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the woods in the town Ryan grew up. The case has some eery similarities to Ryan’s own mysterious past. His two best childhood friends disappeared 20 years earlier in the same woods. Blah Blah (I assume if you’ve read this far, you’ve read the book and I therefore do not need to go into a lengthy, detailed summary of said book).
If there’s an award for character development, Tana French has got it, hands down. Her characters were multi-dimensional, complex and easy to visualize. The main character, Rob, was actually quite unlikable by the end, yet I was still rallying for him to get his shit together (I’m 99% sure that’s what she was going for). Even the secondary characters had depth. They felt real, like I could actually run into them at some point in life (assuming I ever find myself in Dublin, which happens to be one of the many places my best friend and I have planned to travel to together. I digress).
The actual core of the story flowed well. I read one review (I’d link to it, but I can’t remember where I read it… oops) that said French was “too verbose and, at times, redundant.” I disagree. I liked French’s writing style very much. One thing to keep in mind is that this story isn’t being told by some omniscient narrator; it’s a stream of consciousness of the main character. You are in his head the entire time. The story is told as he remembered it, and he tells it as he was feeling at the time, not how he looks back at it. I thought that was an interesting way for French to write. Most books I’ve read where the author places the reader in the character’s head don’t do so quite as successfully. She pulled it off well. Since this is written as someone’s memory, it makes sense to be verbose and possibly redundant. How many times have you remembered a specific event in a completely succinct and concise way? I can say with some certainty that I have never told a story from my own memory that way.
Now, the ending. Reminder: Spoilers ahead! Let me take a moment to ruin the end of the book for anyone still reading despite the cautions… You never find out what happened to the two missing kids, Rob’s best, childhood friends. At first I was appalled by the ending (thus the non-words and my pouting–did I mention I pouted?–at the beginning of my review). I felt that I had been robbed of a key element of the story. This was a huge and important mystery. Rob nearly fucked up the entire investigation because he was the kid left behind and didn’t tell anyone even though there was a possible connection to the new case they were investigating. He was even starting to get glimpses of his memory back. The looming danger and mystery surrounding those kids is part of what kept me so acutely interested the whole time. When you start to find out who Katy’s killer really was, it makes sense. This was definitely foreshadowed, but it was still satisfying when everything was revealed. I didn’t quite know who it was, thou I had some suspicions. But Peter and Jamie… what happened?! I still don’t know, I have no idea! Amid my resentment after having read only part of a book (or so I felt) a light bulb turned on. The ending was real and jarring. A different ending would have felt forced and disingenuous; like she had solved the mystery just to appease us, just for the sake of tidying up loose ends. In this case she ended a good book, and the characters go on living. I’m glad not all books fit nicely into a this-is-how-books-should-be-written box. There’s no formula, per say, that makes a book well written and fascinating. It’s refreshing to find one that feels entirely possible, in every way. Some real-life mysteries are never solved. People don’t always get the happy ending they so yearn for. Sucks, but such is life. Why should a book be any different?