Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: In the Woods [2007]

I've been intrigued by Irish author Tana French's The Likeness ever since I spotted it in reviews several years ago, but never had a good opportunity to pick it up. Then, a few weeks ago, Nancy Pearl said on Twitter: "Wish I could read Tana French's In the Woods again for the first time." In the Woods precedes The Likeness in French's fictional world, and Nancy Pearl's recommendation is more than enough for me, so I immediately requested it from my library on CD and checked out the book as well. This turned out to be a good thing, because I spent the next week listening to the CD in the car and then picking up where I had left off in the book, and vice versa--behavior that I reserve only for books that completely absorb my attention.

In the Woods is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Rob Ryan, a detective in Dublin's murder squad. Rob and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are young and confident, and their relationship has a special closeness rarely seen between platonic friends. Cassie is one of the few people who knows that Rob is actually Adam Ryan, one of three children who mysteriously disappeared in the Dublin subdivision of Knocknaree in the 1980s. Adam was the only child to reappear, his memory of events blank and shoes filled with blood that wasn't his own. When the book begins, another murder at Knocknaree brings Rob full circle on a case that involves a dead girl about the same age as he was when he disappeared. The results are devastating for Rob, his relationship with Cassie, and the family of the dead girl.

In the Woods is much more than a police procedural, it is a book steeped in nostalgia, both for Rob and Cassie's intense relationship, and for the more distant past--the friends that Rob has lost, and the experiences that he can never share with them. French evokes an elegant yearning with her prose; her lines are by turns wittily sarcastic (Rob's "voice") and deeply evocative, especially when she speaks of places:
It was like stumbling into the wreck of some great ancient city. The trees swooped higher than cathedral pillars; they wrestled for space, propped up great fallen trunks, leaned with the slope of the hill: oak, beech, ash, others I couldn't name. Long spears of light filtered, dim and sacred, through the arches of green. Swathes of ivy blurred the massive trunks, trailed in waterfalls from the branches, turned stumps into standing stones (272).
While his official presence on the case is a textbook example of conflict of interest, Rob's need to pursue the demons of his past is understandable, if misguided. He has spent the bulk of the time between the incident in the woods and the present distancing himself from the little boy he once was, and the emotional and psychological consequences of that action are unknown, even to him.

Grade: A

I definitely agree with Nancy Pearl: I would really like to read this book again for the first time. It was such a great balance of humor and suspense and nostalgia. I wish all books were as moving and intriguing.

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