In a Dark Dark Wood Summary

Ruth Ware

In a Dark Dark Wood

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In a Dark Dark Wood Summary

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Ruth Ware’s mystery, In a Dark Dark Wood, is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, which adds to the tension of the mystery itself. An unreliable narrator is one who tells the story of the novel, but in whom the reader cannot place absolute trust. There are many factors that can lead to this type of narration, but in Nora Shaw’s case—the main character in Ware’s novel—she suffers from amnesia. The mystery she seeks to uncover is the murder of a man that both she and her friend loved.

Her friend, the bride and social focal point of the weekend-long bachelorette party during which the murder takes place, is named Clare Cavendish. She and Nora were friends in college, but have settled into acquaintance over the years since. Nora only decides to attend the party when her other friend, Nina de Souza, agrees that she will go, too.

The party takes place at a home in Northumberland that belongs to the aunt of one of Clare’s friends, Florence. Nora and Nina meet others who are attending the party, including Melanie and Tom. Melanie was, at one time, both Florence’s and Clare’s roommate, and Tom works with Nora at the Royal Theatre Company. Upon arriving at Florence’s aunt’s home, Tom is perturbed by the presence of a gun, as guns are illegal in the United Kingdom, though the gun is loaded only with blanks. After the guests settle in, Nora goes out for a run, at which point she meets with Clare who is just arriving.

Clare tells Nora that the reason she invited her to the party was to explain to her in person that she is marrying Nora’s ex-boyfriend, James. Since Nora never got over her breakup with James, she is stunned to learn that he is the groom-to-be.

Melanie, a young mother, misses her family and leaves early in the weekend. Nora learns that Clare once saved Florence’s life, and attributes Florence’s obsession with Clare to that fact. Later, Nora loses her phone but finds footprints going from the garage to the house. When a man mysteriously arrives, Florence attempts to scare him off with the gun that only shoots blanks—except it’s been loaded with more than blanks. She hits the man, who is then injured.

The man turns out to be James, the groom-to-be and Nora’s ex. Clare takes James to the hospital, and the next thing Nora knows is that both Clare and James are in the hospital, she has short-term memory loss from a head injury, and she is suspected of injuring both Clare and James by the police.

Her efforts to remember the events of the weekend reveal that she’d found Clare’s jacket after the bride had left to get James to the hospital. She discovers a shotgun blank in the pocket of Clare’s jacket, and manages to catch the car before Clare can drive away. Nora realizes that Clare must have switched out the blanks in the shotgun for live ammunition. Clare attempts cause an accident that would kill her, Nora, and James, but Nora manages to wrest control of the wheel from Clare in time to save them all.

In order to uncover Clare’s actions and motives, Nora must dive further into her past memories. When she was a teenager, she dated James. They accidentally got pregnant, and James insisted Nora get an abortion. She conceded, and terminated the pregnancy. Nora learns, however, that it was Clare who prodded her to get the abortion, and that it was Clare who prompted the end of Nora’s and James’ relationship, by sending text messages to Nora from James’ phone.

Nora learns that Clare stole her phone over the weekend in Northumberland to invite James to the house. She pretended that Nora wanted to discuss their past relationship to lure him there. Clare’s actions were prompted by James’ wish to find closure with Nora. However, this would have revealed that he did not actually press Nora to get an abortion. To keep this truth from coming to light, Clare planned to have James killed.

With the return of Nora’s memory, the police no longer suspect her. Instead, it is Clare who is brought to justice. Nora must then face these revelations, as well as the events of the bridal party weekend, in order to resume living her life.

Because Nora is an unreliable narrator, the reader cannot trust until the end of the story that she was not responsible for James’ murder. She becomes her own red herring, though immediately following her injury even she cannot be certain that she is not responsible for James’ and Clare’s injuries. In the Dark Dark Wood joins a myriad of other stories that leave the reader wondering through use of an unreliable narrator.