Haha, bet you thought I was finished with my book postings, didn’t you? I actually finished Tana French’s In the Woods before the last book I posted, but I held back. Why? Because this isn’t going to be a quick posting. I have a lot to say about this book. A lot.
[Loba Tangent: Ever notice how I always have so much more to say about the things that I don’t like than I do about the things I do like? Well, except for Star Trek. I can talk about that for hours. I think in another universe, I actually do.]
Dammit, focus, Loba! Okay, so this is actually one of my books rather than another library book. Finally! I’ve been quite excited to read this one since I received it for Christmas 2 years ago (believe me when I say that getting to it within 2 years of receipt is proof of my excitement; some of my books have been waiting patiently for double that time or more).
I need to stop being excited for things, because my excitement is inevitably converted into bitter disappointment.
Okay, that was a bit hyperbolic. I was very excited to read this novel. And I wasn’t completely disappointed. French has an adept grasp of language that was a pleasure to read and that never faltered throughout the story. I love a skilled wordsmith more than any of you might truly understand, and I strongly believe that French is high-caliber in her writing style.
It’s the story that left me flat. It’s also the story that I’m about to ruin in some ways because of the nature of my gripes. So if you’re interested in reading this novel and would rather I not ruin it for you with my whiny hating, I recommend you stop here.
So, here’s the basic gist of the book: It’s a first-person account, told from the perspective of Detective Rob Ryan, from the Dublin Murder Squad. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are assigned to a child murder that takes place in the same place where two unsolved child disappearances took place several years before. Only one witness survived this earlier case: Detective Ryan, who has no memory of what happened and later changed his name and completely hid this event from almost everyone (he does tell his partner, however).
Of course, there’s overlap between the two cases in Ryan’s and Maddox’s mind, and they subsequently come at the new case from this and several other angles. In fact, this takes up a significant portion of the story. Are these cases linked? Is it a serial killer? Will they find the bodies of Ryan’s long-lost friends? How long can Ryan keep his secret from his superiors? Better yet, how long can he keep his secret from unraveling him completely? Will it consume him? Stop him from solving the current case? Destroy his relationships with his partner and other detectives? Destroy everything he’s fought so hard to achieve? Destroy him completely? How many more questions can I come up with before you scream ENOUGH!
So, here’s the thing that really ticked me off. The whole plot about Ryan’s forgotten traumatic event from his childhood (and, believe me, it’s definitely set up as traumatic right from the start) turns out to be nothing more than a red herring that I think French included to give her main character an excuse to be flawed. Why? This is just my theory, mind you, but I think it’s because she was writing from the perspective of a male character. I think she gave him this significant flaw so that if anyone questioned how he was behaving throughout the story, she’d have the fallback of being able to say, “Well of course he’s not going to behave like a typical guy. Look what he went through as a child!”
Again, this is completely my own theory, and probably a huge assumption on my part. However, there was just something so…wow, I hate what I’m about to write, but there was something so stereotypically female about many of Ryan’s actions, reactions, and behaviors throughout the novel that is served as quite a distraction from the real action. The way he behaved throughout a lot of this book, especially toward the end when the unraveling was becoming more prevalent, was erratic, irrational, and at times almost borderline hysterical (see why I hate writing this? I hate every single one of those behavior traits and how they’re always ascribed to women…and how, when they’re ascribed to a male character, they become distracting).
You know what it made me think of, actually? The line from Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets. You know, when the woman asks him how he writes women so well, and he replies, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” That’s terrible (and terribly funny in the context of this movie), but that’s precisely how I felt Ryan had been written.
Do I think that French made this decision as a way to cover for any failings she may have encountered in writing from the male perspective? Possibly. Maybe more than possibly. I totally understand if this was indeed her rationale for adding the childhood trauma angle. I was just so irritated as I approached the end of the novel and realized that this particular piece of the puzzle was going to remain unsolved. I don’t usually have a problem with things like that (some of my favorite episodes of CSI are the ones that are left unsolved for another day), but this really pissed me off. I guess I felt as though, I’ve stuck it out this long, I deserve a little closure, goddammit!
Ah well. Can’t always get what we want, right Mick?
Final Verdict: I haven’t come to a complete decision on this one, but I’m almost 100 percent positive that this book will not remain in my collection. The uncertainty stems from the fact that I’m intrigued enough by French’s other detective, Cassie Maddox that I’ve already borrowed from the library French’s followup novel, The Likeness, which is all about Maddox. It’s my next read, in fact (so much for reading my own books, eh?). If I like it enough to want it for my collection, there’s the slightest of possibilities that I might want to hang on to In the Woods as its companion piece. But that’s a very slight possibility, indeed. We’ll see. For now, though, I’m placing this one in my donation box. The thrift store is going to love me…