Tag: In The Woods by Tana French

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  In The Woods is also the forty-first book we’ve read, which means we are 2/5 of the way through the list.  Can you believe we’ve read 41 books?  That also means that, between the two of us, Roberta and I have written 82 book reviews for this challenge alone, which is no small accomplishment.  We should throw ourselves a virtual celebratory party!

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

For a summary of In The Woods, read Roberta’s Writer’s Review and her excellent description of the eight key components of a plot.

Debut Novels

Eight of the books we’ve read so far in this challenge were debut novels:  The Mill River Recluse, The Weird Sisters, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Silent Wife, The White Tiger, The Weight of Silence, The Marriage Bargain, and now In The Woods.  So 1/5 of the books read so far were debut novels.  I find that fact interesting – it means that 1/5 of the authors figured out early on or intuitively already knew what makes a great novel.

For this Bestseller Code Challenge we are reading through the list of books in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of The Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers for several reasons, one of which is to see how our tastes in books compares with the computer model.  In The Bestseller Code, the authors discuss a writer’s style and how that factors into making a bestselling book.

 

In short, style is important: it is the mechanism through which plot, theme, and character get delivered.  Style is at once mechanical and organic; it springs from a combination of nature and nurture; from innate ability and practiced craft.  And nowhere is the importance of style seen more vividly than in the work of those authors who are hitting the NYT list for the first time.  Saying it is difficult to make it straight onto the NYT list with a first novel is a great understatement.

First Lines, or #BookBeginnings

One of the elements of novelistic style the authors of The Bestseller Code discuss in great detail is the first line of a novel:

We believe that the first line of a novel can tell you a lot about the writer’s command of style.

They give three examples of famous first lines and then explain:

One thing that is immediately clear about all three of these classic writers is that their first sentences create voice.  Someone is talking to us, and that someone sounds authentic, in command of some sort of authority.  There is no wavering, or cautiousness, or lack of surety.  All novelists have the challenge of creating some sort of selfhood, and readers might note that they tend to keep reading when that selfhood, attractive or not, at least knows itself and leads its reader.  The best writers – or those that will achieve the most readers – are able to establish this kind of presence from the opening sentence with tiny and seemingly effortless modulations in style.

This is one reason why Roberta begins the discussion of each of our challenge novels with a BookBeginnings post.  The first line is an important style feature and bestselling authors know how to craft a first line that will hook their readers.  For a debut novelist, this ability is even more important – they cannot rely upon their faithful following of readers to buy their books because they don’t have a faithful following yet!

Here’s the first line from Chapter 1 of In The Woods:

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective.

We don’t yet know if our narrator is male or female, but we do know that we’re being cautioned about him/her being a detective.  Why would he/she warn us about this fact?

This is the stuff a good stylist needs to recognize: that the first sentence is the hook and the hook is a mixture of voice and conflict achieved through the mechanics of diction and syntax. – The Bestseller Code

Are you hooked already?  I was.

Page Turner

From the very first sentence, In The Woods was a page turner.  I enjoyed the interplay of the two main detectives, Rob (“I am a detective”) and Cassie.  I was intrigued by the inner conflict of Rob as he tried to solve one murder that took place in the same location where, twenty years before, his two best friends disappeared and he was left with no memory of what happened to them.

In The Woods is not just a mystery, it is a psychological mystery, and a very good one at that.  I loved the little seeds and distractions that French left for the reader to pick up – I kept wondering who the psychopath was that Cassie warned the reader about and if maybe it was Rob, our detective narrator.

While the ending of the novel wasn’t all I wanted, I can see why French didn’t resolve the twenty year old case.  Rob does his best throughout the book to avoid memories, to avoid dealing with his past in any way, and that spills over into every aspect of his life, so it would have been terribly out of character for him to remember what happened to him and his friends all those years ago.  Knowing French has turned this Dublin Murder Squad division of the Irish police into a series, I hope she eventually resolves that old case, but I guess I’ll have to read the series to find out!

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary:  Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surrounded their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

 Characters

Author Tana French’s characters are well-drawn and complex. The first person narrator is Detective Rob Ryan (the one who survived the earlier event).  He reveals on the second page of Chapter 1 that he might be an unreliable narrator when he says,  “And I lie.”

His partner is Detective Cassie Maddox, a young woman who also might have some personal demons.

The two detectives have been partners for a couple of years before the story starts. Their bantering, close relationship is the best part of the book.

“Behave yourself,” I said, pulling her hood over her face.
“Help! I’m being oppressed!” she yelled through it. “Call the Equality Commission.” The stroller girl gave us a sour look.
“You’re overexcited,” I told Cassie. “Calm down or I’ll take you home with no ice cream.”

 

Setting

The main setting is a patch of woods near a small neighborhood in Dublin. Rather that being just a simple backdrop, the mood of the woods changes with situations throughout the story:

  • from a joyful playground,
  • to a terrifying trap,
  • to a sad final resting place,
  • to a contentious construction site.

 

The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises — rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teams with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye.

The Plot

I recently attended a workshop where the presenter suggested deconstructing eight key components of plot in a novel as a way to learn the craft. Let’s see how it goes.

1. The hook – The purpose of the hook is to grab and hold the reader’s interest. Because most readers decide whether or not to continue on with a book after reading the first few paragraphs to first few pages, it is important to make the beginning sentences really count.

I already discussed the beginning of the book in an earlier post, but to summarize, in the prologue the author does a good job of making the reader wonder what’s going on with the kids and want to read more to find out.

2. The set up – This is where the author introduces the characters, reveals details of their world, and presents the problem that is central to the story.

The character and setting introductions work well. Readers are drawn to Rob and Cassie. They have a cool relationship.

The story problem is multi-layered, which adds complexity. The main problem is to figure out who killed twelve-year-old Katy.  Underlying that problem is what happened to the three young children twenty years prior and is it related to Katy’s death?

3. The obstacles – For a successful story, the characters need to overcome hurtles and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes the obstacle is simply moving down the wrong path or following a red herring. There are several red herrings in this story, including mysterious strangers.

The biggest obstacle which hinders the investigation is Rob’s past experiences.  His emotions roil as memories surface.  For example, he messes up in court when he is supposed to give evidence for another case.

4. The side story – This is a subplot that is not directly involved in solving the problem, but that adds a sense of realism and depth.

The side story is easy to spot in this novel. There is also a side character, another detective named Sam O’Neill. His part of the investigation is to figure out whether Katy’s death was politically motivated due to conflict over a proposed road construction project. Personally, I found the side story to be rather flat, although perhaps that’s what the author intended.

5. This Changes Everything! – Toward the middle of most novels there’s a time when the rug is pulled out from under the hero. Something occurs or is discovered that defies the reader’s expectations and wakes him or her up.

This component wasn’t as clear (or handled in such a straightforward way). Right about the middle (roughly page 210 in this 429 page book), Rob remembers witnessing a rape in the woods as a child. It doesn’t change things drastically, but he and Cassie pursue it.

The biggest shake up comes near the end/climax when Rob’s boss finds out Rob was involved in the earlier case. That really does change everything.

6. The escalation – The section that is push to the climax of the story. Often the pacing becomes more intense, and the ratio of dialogue to narration shifts to more dialogue.

The pace does pick up as the detectives hone in on the killer.

7. The climax– When everything comes together and the reader finds out who did it.

This is where In the Woods really departs from the norm. Instead of a satisfying resolution, suddenly Rob’s life is turned on its head. His boss finds out about his past, he sleeps with Cassie and then withdraws from her which destroys their partnership, and the person who instigates the murder turns the tables on them and gets way with everything. Instead of everything coming together, everything falls apart.

8. A satisfying ending – Again, the novel doesn’t follow the mystery novel blueprint. It almost seemed like two endings.

In the “first ending”, we do learn who kills Katy, which is the solution to the primary problem. The fact that the instigator escapes is not satisfying, but it works.

On the other hand, almost nothing is revealed about the earlier disappearances. If anything, things are murkier. In this tacked on “second ending” Rob wanders around, his life in shambles.

If this novel was a stand alone, the first ending would have been sufficient. As part of a series, however, the less satisfying “second ending” makes sense. The author is probably setting things up for the next novel. It is possible that solution to the older mystery isn’t revealed until much later in the series, if at all.

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What did you think of the plot deconstruction? Did it enlighten, or was hard to follow?

I learned a few things about my expectations as a reader and how I would approach things as a writer.

Discussion

For the most part, I enjoyed this novel, but I did have one issue with the story line (besides the unsatisfactory ending). In contrast to Rob who is up front that he lies, Cassie does not lie unless forced to do so by her job. This character trait made it less believable that she would go along with Rob when he hides his involvement in the earlier crime from his boss. Even with her close relationship with Rob, it didn’t ring true that she would allow him to blatantly jeopardize both the case and their careers. Of course, as the main character Rob needed to be involved in the mystery for it to work, but it would have been more realistic — and have added another layer of conflict — if Cassie had revealed Rob’s past connection to her boss right away and Rob had had to fight to be included at every step of the investigation.

According to Book Riot, reading In the Woods isn’t the best way to start the series. largely because of the problems I mentioned with the ending. Jessica Woodbury suggests starting with the fourth book in the series, Broken Harbor, because of how the characters reoccur. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 60. In the Woods by Tana French

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary: Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surround their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

Have you read In The Woods by Tana French? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about In The Woods by Tana French? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BookBeginnings In The Woods By Tana French

Today we’re looking forward to starting the next book in The Bestseller Code 100 challenge, In The Woods by Tana French for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

In The Woods* by Tana French

Reprint cover:

My paperback copy has this cover:


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Which cover do you like better?

Summary:  Twenty years before, three young children disappear into the woods that surround their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survives, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

First sentence of Prologue:

Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. This is none of Ireland’s subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur’s palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in hot pure silkscreen blue.

First sentence of Chapter 1:

What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass.

I am so looking forward to reading this book. The first person narrator in Chapter 1 is intense. I’m also intrigued that it is set in Ireland.

Have you read In the Woods? Any of the others in the series by Tana French? What do you think?

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