“This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr Whippy notes and your best friend’s knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Everysummer decked in all its best glory.” – In The Woods by Tana French
Have you ever had someone spend twenty minutes telling you what they hated about a film, only to watch it yourself and find it’s not that bad? They set your expectations a little lower. It’s kinda helpful, actually. I’ve had many a movie saved by my sister – my music muse – and her passionate reviews. I’ve gotten to the point where sometimes I’ll ask her if she liked a film just so I’ll lower my expectations before I watch it. Not every movie is going to be the next great epic. Some of them are just fun weekend films.
The same is true for this book. My sister read it a while back and HATED it.
I picked it up when I agreed to participate in a blog book reading being hosted by Love at First Book for the month of March. We are all reading In the Woods and discussing it. It has been lots of fun, though I got started late and then finished early. I read some of the Amazon reviews and while many of them praised the book, most of them complained about the ending, which was also my sisters complaint.
My expectations were set. (Not spoiled, just set.) I knew going into this book that the ending would be less than satisfactory. With that in mind, I was able to enjoy In the Woods knowing full well all my questions would remain unanswered. (Sister saves the day again!) Let me do you the favor she did me and take it the next step - if you read this book your questions will not be answered, and this is not a murder mystery.
Now, wait one minute you would say if you were maybe half way through the book, this is a murder mystery. Nope. The murder mystery is merely the catalyst and the harness for the story. It is not the story itself. If you don’t pick up on this early you risk hating this story!
What is the story? (Here come the spoilers!)
The story is Parallelism.
A boy and his two friends: another boy and a girl.
A detective and his partner and extra partner: a girl and another boy.
A wood where they spend their summers: Beautiful.
The apartment of the partner where they spend their evenings: Beautiful.
Something bad happens in the woods: the woods become evil.
Something happens in the apartment: he becomes suspicious of everything especially his partner.
He loses his childhood friends: they are murdered.
He loses his adult friends: he drives them away as he’s played by a psychopath. They are taken from him both by his actions and the actions of others.
In the end he must face that while the woods gave him his darkest moments, they also gave him some of his best. In the end, the reader realizes that the apartment was the place he also had some of his best memories, and now they are lost to him.
This book is the same story, told two different ways. One is told in a very “child-like” way: summer, friends, monsters. The other is told in a very “adult” way: work, friends, inner monsters. The author suggests at least twice that children don’t view the world the same way we do. They still see the magic. They still hope to find Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe, or to see an Ent, or get a Hogwarts letter. They think it just might happen. Adults don’t. This is the story. The child version and the adult version.
So….my thoughts as a whole. This book was beautifully written. The descriptions and characters were rich and vibrant. I was glued to it the whole time. I understand why, as a writer, you don’t want to let your readers in on too much from the beginning, but it is very hard for most readers to see what this story is about unless someone has already ranted about the ending. This is not a thriller, a mystery, or a suspense. This is literary fiction. It’s just about the people involved. It’s just about the man who once was a boy and in some ways still is. I can’t say I loved this book, but it was too beautiful to hate.
I had a few points of frustration. First, I found the timeline to be very confusing. I’m the kind of writer who has three or four detailed timelines for my novels. I have to know what happened on which day to which people. I don’t like reading something in a book and not being able to tell if it happened during the main events or after the events. There were several times I wasn’t sure if the case was being handled over the course of a few days or a year or so. It draws me out of a book when I feel like the timeline is significant, but not clear.
The other frustration I had was the lack of hope or redemption at the end. The only people you like at the end are the friends he loses. You don’t blame them for leaving him. You blame him for losing them. You don’t like the boy/man and you might pity, but you don’t like, the criminals. I’ve heard the arguments again and again about how things don’t all need tidy happy endings, and I agree. Watch Six Monkeys. Read Shutter Island. Not everything has to be happy and perfect. But, on the other hand, I think the sour taste left in everyone’s mouth at the end of this book comes from the lack of hope and redemption. By the end you’re just hanging there hoping against all odds he will find one set of friends or the other. He doesn’t.
In the end the case can’t be solved any more than he could get his friends back. Only at the end, when he lost it all, did he remember the beauty of the woods.
Maybe this is the power of the book…. though I think it’s the wordsmithing myself….and maybe it’s the books downfall.
Read it and let me know what you think!
Here’s the link to Rebecca’s Part 4 of our discussion: http://loveatfirstbook.com/2013/03/24/in-the-woods-week-4-you-made-it/