Tag Archives: Richard and Judy

In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware

Having written the blog for over seven years what is wonderful (and I am always telling you all so) is the lovely people that I have met throughout that time be they fellow bloggers, folk from social media, the authors of the teams within the publishers themselves. Back in the early stages of my blog one member of a publishers publicity team was always super nice and that was Ruth Ware. So it all seems quite meta and bizarre that all these years later I should be reviewing her first crime novel In A Dark, Dark Wood. Good thing then that it is a right old page turning thriller or this could have been really, really awkward.

9781846558917

Vintage Books, 2015, hardback, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It hurts. Everything hurts. The light in my eyes, the pain in my head. There’s a stench of blood in my nostrils, my hands are sticky with it.
‘Leonora?’
The voice comes dim through a fog of pain. I try to shake my head, my lips won’t form the word.
‘Leonora, you’re safe, you’re at the hospital. We’re taking you to have a scan.’
It’s a woman, speaking clearly and loudly. Her voice hurts.
‘Is there anyone we should be calling?’
I try again to shake my head.
‘Don’t move your head,’ she says. ‘You’ve had a head injury.’
‘Nora,’ I whisper.
‘You want us to call Nora? Who’s Nora?’
‘Me… my name.’
‘All right, Nora. Just try to relax. This won’t hurt.’
But it does. Everything hurts.
What has happened?
What have I done?

I don’t normally include the entire first chapter of a novel in my reviews/book thoughts, and it is not something I am planning on making a habit of. However in the case of In A Dark, Dark Wood it is very short and also shows exactly where Ruth Ware throws her reader from the off. We are in a hospital, with a woman called Leonora, or Nora, who has clearly gone through something horrendous and traumatic, the question is what? Well, here Ruth Ware is very clever indeed because actually exactly what is not revealed until the very end, instead what follows are glimpses into three strands of Nora’s life which lead up to and then reveal just what on earth happened on  a weekend in the woods.

We all have certain friendships which start off intensely and then for some reason (be it from either party) the friendship falls foul/turns sour and is over as quickly as it started. The intensity stays and lingers becoming guilt, bitterness, annoyance or loss. Whatever the lingering feeling the one thing we are sure about is that we don’t want to talk about it or think about those times or the person we might have been then. If by chance that person suddenly comes back into your life so do all those feelings, plus that tiny glimmer of hope, come back to the fore. This is the position that Nora finds herself in when she gets invited for a weekend away on Clare’s hen night. She hasn’t seen Clare in years since she left her old hometown after the two had fallen out, so why does she suddenly want her at this event, and does she really when the invite is in fact from Clare’s new best friend Flo. Yet cajoled by Nina, who also knows Clare yet doesn’t know why the two fell out as Nora won’t discuss it, they decide to go together. Soon enough things start to take a darker toll as Nora, Nina, Flo and Clare, joined by Melanie and Tom, end up in a house in the middle of a wood with no life around them, bar woodland animals and fauna, for miles and soon things start to go awry.

‘You know –’ I was thinking aloud ‘-what really creeps me out isn’t the footprints – or not as such. It’s the fact that if it hadn’t have been for the snow, we’d never have known.’
We looked out, contemplating the unbroken white carpet across the path to the forest. My own steps from the run that morning had been filled in, and now you would never have known a human foot had passed. For a long moment we all stood in silence, thinking about that fact, thinking about all the times we could have been observed, completely unaware.

There were many reasons why I thought that In A Dark, Dark Wood was a bloody (pun intended) good read and why I enjoyed getting carried away with it all. I have to admit before I started it I couldn’t decide if a hen weekend (a weekend where a bride and all her closest friends go crazy for one final big night or two of shenanigans, if you don’t know the term) would be an utterly brilliant idea for a scenario or not, of course it is, it makes all the drunken hysteria and tensions completely magnified. The setting of a house in the middle of nowhere also means no phone signal for help and who doesn’t get slightly scared in the middle of a big wood at night regardless of who you are with once the lights go out and even more so if one of them might be a psychopath?

On a more ‘literary’ level I thought that the plotting and the delivery of In A Dark, Dark Wood were brilliant. As I mentioned earlier the actual ‘incident’ that leaves Nora in hospital isn’t revealed until as close to the end as is possible and leaves you wondering just what Nora is forgetting or what she might be concealing as well as who the culprit of anything might be, well it did me and I guessed completely wrongly every time. Is Nora a reliable narrator? You’ll have to read to find out. I also thought the way Ware uses three time lines as slow reveals were added to the tension marvellously; what happened during the school years, what happened in the woods and everything that happens while Nora is in hospital. I also really enjoyed the characters who all had something to hide and were a bit spiky, in one case utterly mad (though the latter story actually made me a bit weepy at one point, which has never happened in a crime novel) or just a bit awful.

On a pure ‘escapist entertainment’ level In A Dark, Dark Wood also again excels. I felt like Ruth had soaked in all the things she loves in classic crime novels; locked house mysteries, footprints in the snow, as well as tropes from great gothic novels. There is also a wonderful nostalgic (for me anyway) sense of those brilliant movies of my teens like Scream, Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer with a sprinkling of Mean Girls the later years. What I am saying in essence and this is a huge compliment from me and so I hope is seen as such, is that this is a like a really, really good Point Horror novel for the grown up generation with a sprinkling of the spirit of Christie. It is also occasionally genuinely creepy. So what is not to like?

If you are looking for a crime novel that will give you chills, spills and thrills (I never understand what the spills part of that actually means) then I would highly, highly recommend you spend a few nights with In A Dark, Dark Wood. I also dare you to try and be able to work out just whodunit and what on earth they did before Ruth Ware unleashes the denouement. No reason Reese Witherspoon, Richard and Judy and myself all love it, and what a group of recommender’s that is! I am looking forward to Ruth’s next criminally good (sorry, couldn’t help it) novel which will be out this summer.

If you would like to hear more about the book, you can find Ruth and myself in conversation on You Wrote The Book here.

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Filed under Review, Ruth Ware, Vintage Books

A Lovely Trip to Liverpool…

On Monday I had the pleasure of going to the head offices of The Reader Organisation to meet them and see what they do and if I might be of any use/benefit/something to them. The meeting wasn’t until the afternoon and so as it was in Liverpool, a city I have been through but never actually wandered around, I thought I would make a day of it. So I thought, with the power of the virtual world, I would take you all with me, especially as it has become a ‘city of culture’ in the UK in the last few years.

Liverpool is a city that really I know nothing about which is rather naughty really considering that part of my heritage is from there. Granny Savidge Reads and her routes are in fact from Liverpool, the Wirral and Southport, so there is some Mersey blood in me somewhere. I am sure that my Uncle Derrick (Gran’s brother who used to tell me Sherlock Holmes tales on long walking holidays) once told me that if you see ‘Hill’ on a drain cover in the north that’s because that side of my family made them. How true this is could be debateable knowing the sense of humour of my great uncles and the fact that he was known to exaggerate, I will have to ask Gran this weekend. Anyway as I left the station I was instantly hit by the grandeur of the surrounding buildings, mainly museums.

I decided that my first port of call, pun intended, would be the Albert Docks down by the Mersey. It was weird walking around the city because when I was younger the only soap opera that my Mum and I would watch was Brookside and so I kept seeing buildings from the title sequence and so the theme tune was in my head for most of the day. If you haven’t seen it you can here. When I reached the docks I was stunned by what greeted me, the mix of modern and older buildings is quite something.

The reason for my visit there was to see the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Knowing that I don’t like boats or books based on boats you might find this odd. However there is an exhibition on the Titanic there and as I have something planned for the blog on the 100th anniversary I wanted more insight into it, more on that soon…

After being submerged/immersed in the history and events of the Titanic I popped next door to the Tate Liverpool…

I had a good old wander round; art is very subjective so I don’t want to bore you with everything I saw, looking at the permanent exhibitions. I have to say I do prefer going around art galleries on my own, I think it’s a very personal experience and some things you walk past and think ‘meh’ and others you feel like staring at for hours. I find if I am with a group you are all at different paces and I either rush… or get bored. I did pop and see the temporary exhibition but I didn’t think you would want to see what was inside. Is this sort of thing really art?

The other reason I was excited about the Albert Docks, and this is quite sad to admit, was that when I was a teenager this was where the UK’s breakfast show ‘This Morning’ was filmed. Who knew that this very spot would be where the Richard and Judy Book Club was started… sort of. I was sad to find that Fred’s floating weather map was no longer in the middle (if you are thinking ‘what??’ the weather man on This Morning used to do the weather in the middle of the dock on a floating set of the British Isles, whenever he jumped over to island we all watched in case he fell in.)

Now of course I couldn’t mention, or really go to, Liverpool without paying homage to their most famous export, The Beatles. I have to say I am not a huge fan (I think my Gran might have seen them at the Cavern, again this could be an Uncle Derrick story) but I do like some of their songs and it would have been foolhardy of me not to have found the cavern…

Only that wasn’t The Cavern, this was…

Oh no that’s not right, this is where it used to be…

I got very confused. The morning had whizzed by and so it was time to head to The Reader Organisation’s headquarters. I don’t want to talk too much about what went on, in case I jinx it, but it was wonderful to meet the staff and hear their stories of how the reading groups they run aren’t changing lives but are making them fuller and happier, plus then the Director of the company Jane who discussed why and how she set it up. I will admit at some of the stories, which were incredibly touching, I welled up. I then had to swiftly compose myself as I was taking part in a reading group, reading aloud (eek) and reading Shakespeare and poetry (my heart dropped) yet reading it and discussing it was wonderful (I am not quite converted, yet) and really got me into it, because there were no right or wrong answers.

A few hours later and it was time to head back (I did manage to pass, and fall into, a bookshop on the way but I will report more on that tomorrow)  as I was due to meet a certain Polly of Novel Insights, as we were off to have a lovely dinner before going to see the singer Caro Emerald. She was AMAZING, if you ever get the chance you must see her. Stunning.

There was some boogying in the aisles from me and Polly but all too soon it was time to say goodbye.  After 26 years of friendship we were both discussing how scary it is now we are thirty… before we then started to pretend we were auditioning for Spooks in Manchester Station while we waited for her bus.

I am not sure I am ever going to really grow up. Anyway, what a day! Liverpool I thoroughly loved you, I will be back very soon. Have any of you been to Liverpool, is there anything I missed? If you haven’t been to Liverpool do go! Where have you been off to for a visit recently? Shall I take you on more of these trips, by the power of the internet and a bit of imagination, in the future?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Dark Matter – Michelle Paver

I love a ghost story; I also think that they are one of the hardest types of books to get right. If the author puts a foot wrong, or even a word wrong, at any point the uncomfortable becomes the unconvincing and suddenly the spell is broken because the fear has gone. It was therefore with much interest, and rather a lot of hope if I am honest (as this was a lead up to Halloween read), that I picked up Michelle Paver’s ‘Dark Matter’ which even comes with the subheading ‘a ghost story’ on the cover, a lot to promise before a page has been turned.

Orion, paperback, 2011, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Dark Matter’ opens in January 1937 as we meet Jack Miller, the narrator of this tale through his very diary entries, as he agrees to take part on an expedition to the Arctic. This is a mission of hope for Jack who is finding his life rather lacklustre to say the least. He is very poor, lives in one of the unfashionable parts of London (on a personal note I will say that Tooting was much nicer when I used to live there) and though he is studying he doesn’t feel like has any prospects. To his mind this could be a great adventure and change his life forever, even if he doesn’t really like the ‘posh boys’ who he will be travelling with.

The arctic is a brilliant place to set a ghost story. Not only is it an area that remains a vast area of land with no one about it is also a place that is remote and hard to get in reach of, especially in those times within which the book is set when a boat would take a good three days from the mainland, it is also a place of some mystery and wonder. It is a great place to set up and build upon feelings of unease, which Michelle Paver does exceptionally throughout, along with so much open space and yet no where really to run.

“We’ve been so busy that at times I’ve hardly noticed our surroundings. But sometimes I’ll pause and look about, and then I’m sharply aware of all the busy creatures – men, dogs, birds – and behind them the stillness. Like a vast, watching presence.
    It’s a pristine wilderness. Well, not quite pristine. I was a bit put out to learn that there have been others here before us. Gus found the ruins of a small mine on the slopes behind the camp; he brought back a plank with what looks like a claim, roughly painted in Swedish. To make the beach safe for the dogs, we had to clear a tangle of wire and gaffs and some large rusty knives, all of which were buried under stones. And there’s that hut, crouched among the boulders in a blizzard of bones.”

It’s also a place where for some of the year around you go from having 24 hours of daylight to 24 hours of darkness, and this is what Paver uses very much to her advantage. As the amount of hours of sunlight lessens the tension heightens and stranger things start to happen. Yet as things start to happen, and I won’t give away any specifics, you begin to wonder if it is Gruhuken as a place itself that is haunted, or if it the minds of those staying there in such conditions. We all know the mind can play tricks on us when we are in the comfort of our own homes on a dark and chilly night, imagine then what pitch darkness in freezing temperatures with little company could do to you.

Not only was I genuinely scared in parts of ‘Dark Matter’, which is the aim with every ghost story and in which I think this succeeds, I built a real bond with Jack (whose story with his lead Gus has an additional excellent twist, which I won’t say more about here but would love to discuss in the comments) a narrator and I think that was because of the book being written in his diary entries, as well as some of the others he spies on, throughout. You get a real sense of the emotions and internal processes of the situation that they find themselves in.

The atmosphere that Paver creates is fantastic and you do actually feel the chill in the air and the oppression of the endless darkness. It has certainly made me want to run and read anything else that Paver has written before whether it is ghostly or not. I have to add I think the pictures in the paperback edition combined with Paver’s prose, and setting of atmosphere, really added to the experience.

‘Dark Matter’ is a wonderful, chilling ghost story. It is also just a completely brilliant book regardless of that tag. It takes you on a journey with some people you feel you really build relationships with, grips you, thrills you, scares you and might just break your heart too. I cannot recommend this novel enough, especially in these dark nights, you will certainly get more than you bargained for. I did.

I have to say I now want to binge on arctic based novels, with ‘Dark Matter’ recently and reading M. J. McGrath’s White Heat’ and ‘Last Rituals’ by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (review to come soon) plus Frozen Planet on the telly at the moment I seem to just want to emmerse myself in that world which seems so distant from my own… even though Manchester is bloody cold at the moment. Ha! Has anyone else a little arctic obsession at the moment, maybe I should plan a little ‘reading expedition’ out there and see if any of you want to join me? In the meantime if you have read this, do let me know your thoughts.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Michelle Paver, Orion Publishing, Review