Thursday, 9 July 2009

In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French was somewhat of a departure for me; I don't read much Crime Fiction and, on the odd occasion that I do, I read the Classic Crime Fiction Masters: Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allan Poe. However, I don't believe in "comfort zones" and read widely and eclectically and seek out literature that interests me, whatever the genre.

Here is its synopsis, courtesy of Waterstone's:

When he was twelve years old, Adam Ryan went playing in the woods one day with his two best friends. He never saw them again. Their bodies were never found, and Adam himself was discovered with his back pressed against an oak tree and his shoes filled with blood. He had no memory of what had happened. Twenty years on, Rob Ryan - the child who came back - is a detective in the Dublin police force. He's changed his name. No one knows about his past. Then a little girl's body is found at the site of the old tragedy and Rob is drawn back into the mystery. Knowing that he would be thrown off the case if his past were revealed, Rob takes a fateful decision to keep quiet but hopes that he might also solve the twenty-year-old mystery of the woods.

I was intrigued; I've been wanting to read this one for a while, especially as other bloggers had amazing things to say about it and I was delighted to pick up a copy from the library. Now I am feeling frustrated and annoyed that I spent a week struggling with 600 pages (and another 200 pages consisting of Olivia and half of Persuasion) when I have a leaning stack of books waiting to be read that is as tall as that famous tower in Pisa. Perhaps I am simply feeling overwhelmed and a little out of sorts today.

For the most part I enjoyed the novel. It was a welcome break to read something different, that was modern and also compelling. I was enthralled by the plot but not as much as I expected to be. It was suspenseful but I also thought that it devolved into the near-ridiculous. I was expecting ... more. So much was made of the 1984 crime and it ultimately never led anywhere; there were teases of the supernatural or of a psychological break or other countless possibilities and none of them led anywhere at all. I am disappointed. I feel as if I was led by the hand through a maze, excited at every twist and turn, to find myself led back through the way I entered, without actually discovering anything. I am frustrated with the way things were -or were not, as they case was- tied up and no, I do not expect everything to be presented to me tied in a bow but I do expect answers when I have invested time in following clues and looking for them.

The novel was engaging and well-written; some passages really had to be re-read because the writing was that good. I liked this passage, amogst a number of others:

The wood had never been so lush or so feral. Leaves threw off dazzles of sunlight like Catherine wheels and the colours were so bright you could live on them, the smell of fertile earth amplified to something heady as church wine. We shot through humming clouds of midges and leaped ditches and rotten logs, branches swirled around us like water, swallows trapezed across our path and in the trees alongside I swear three deer kept pace with us. I felt light and lucky and wild, I had never run so fast or jumped so effortlessly high; one shove of my foot and I could have been airborne.

French's literary prowess is at times exceedingly impressive but there was no need for it to carry on for close to 600 pages. By all means, provide us with an engaging thriller but there is such a thing as succinctness; there also another thing called editing. In the end I was so annoyed by the narrator and his neuroses and the dragging on of the plot that the anti-climactic nature of it was welcome because it was finally over and I could move onto a book that I could potentially enjoy thoroughly, instead of only in parts. The psychology at times was interesting; I liked the relationship between the detectives; I liked the characterisation, even of the filler characters; but overall I found that there was too much of everything: of description, of minor details, and of ideas, as if Tana French wanted so desperately to squeeze everything into this one book. Saying that, now she has a sequel and that is 700 pages long.


farmlanebooks said...

Interesting review. I plan to read this soon and have heard very mixed reviews for it. It sounds like I might agree with you. I'm not a fan of overly long books with too much detail, but I'm still willing to give it a try. I want to know what everyone is talking about!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Jackie, I had only heard good reviews, which probably means my expectations were too high. I also wanted to know what everybody was talking about! Sometimes it's better to ignore the hype and concentrate on the books that you've always wanted to read but never had the chance to. It won't put me off further modern and "popular" books but it has tainted my attitude towards them some e.g. I can't see me rushing to read the Dragon Tattoo book that's apparently of the same ilk.
I am a fan of long books if there's a need for the length and if you are kept thoroughly engaged for the duration but, otherwise, it becomes too long a slog.

Darlene said...

I called my husband over and read the synopsis to him, it sounds like just the sort of story he enjoys. The only thing is, he can't help trying to solve the mystery by ten pages in! I say to him "can't you just enjoy it?" It's no use.

Samantha said...

I know what it's like to be disappointed in a book when you've heard nothing but rave reviews of it (and I too have a copy of In the Woods - unread!) Makes me think it may sit on the shelf for a little longer ;-)

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, that was one of my problems; I couldn't just read and enjoy the book but was attempting to unravel the mysteries. Your husband may have more success than I did.

Samantha, I've missed your posts and comments! Realistically we are not all going to like the same books all of the time; I just need to remember that and not set my hopes to high when everyone else has loved a book.