July Book Club: In The Woods
Welcome to our July choice for the Well Read Company Book Club!
Tana French has long been one of my favourite authors. She writes intricately plotted, yet sprawling novels that take you fully inside the minds and lives of her characters. Narrators are unreliable, red herrings are everywhere, and the relationships between the characters are as intense and attention-grabbing as the actual crime itself. In The Woods, her debut, is French at her very finest: all these details are fully here, perhaps in their twistiest form of all.
This novel is often considered French’s best. It follows detective Rob Ryan, who is haunted by what happened to him one summer twenty years ago: his two best friends went missing, as the three of them were playing together in a local wood. He was the only one to return home after the incident, but with absolutely no memory of what happened. In the present day, he is pulled back to the same wood in the same small estate, but for a different crime: a child has been murdered, and it his job to solve the case. This novel pulls together everything that makes a crime novel great: not one but two horrendous crimes, an intriguing and multi-layered case, two sparkling lead detectives with chemistry to boot, a true evil killer at the heart of it, and a satisfying confession (no spoilers, but the confession isn’t entirely satisfying, to tell the truth…).
“What I am telling you, before you begin my story, is this -- two things: I crave truth. And I lie. ”
Though French takes careful note of the all crime conventions that we love to find and recognise in any detective novel, she also implodes them. The detective, who we are supposed to trust, is lying. The crimes may not be neatly tied up with a bow by the end. Ultimately, the lives of the real people left behind by the atrocities overshadow the crimes themselves. She expertly sheds light on traumatised families, the pressure of police work and the effect of trauma to a childhood memory, turning the book into more of a psychological exploration rather than your typical crime novel. To me, though, this is what makes it so powerful. It’s not an easy or lighthearted read by any means, but French tugs at our emotions, spins us on our tail when we think the answer is close, so that we are left completely in her power, sucked entirely into the world of the novel.
“There was a time when I believed I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.”
In the Woods is a novel that will stay with you for days or even weeks to come. French follows it with five more books in The Dublin Murders series, of which I have read several - this may just be my favourite. Take it to the beach or to the park, the day will slip by and you won’t have realised how tightly you’ve been gripping the pages.
We loved reading this novel this month and are so excited to discuss it with you - please tell us what you thought via social media or by commenting on this post!