Aly in Wonderland

In the Woods

In the Woods  - Tana French There was a time when I believed I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.

My copy is so much better than yours, aHA!


When I was around seven or eight, my dad took me to school like any other morning. I remember it was raining -- those nasty sheets of water that make it difficult to see the palm right in front of your face -- and the local radio kept warning everyone to "be good" on the road. My sister and I were singing some random lyrics we heard off the TV in the back of the car, and my dad kept telling us to shut up because he couldn't concentrate. It wasn't until I grew up that I realised just how important it is to concentrate whilst driving.

Anyway, it usually took us about 20 minutes to get to school, but that morning half the roads were closed. A kid a few years older than me had been hit by a car, died on impact. They said he didn't suffer, that the driver had not seen him fly into the road, and the school was going to be shut for the day due to the weather.

To this day, I remember the news. I don't, however, remember the boy's name, or what he looked like or what year he was in.

A few years later, Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal. This, I remember as if it were yesterday. It was all over the news, parents became a hundred times more protective. Police came to the schools and gave talks about safety in numbers, of never leaving a group of people and wandering off unsupervised and teachers lectured us about leaving school without confirmation of a buddy or parents picking up.

We didn't realise back then just how big the case would become. I remember talking to my friend and she said, "This whole thing has nothing to do with us, Maddie wasn't even in England at the time." But it was terrifying to know that a child could just vanish in the middle of the night, never to be found again.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this, so I'll tell you. With the death of my school mate, the town had closure. We knew who did it, we knew it was an accident, and there was nothing we could do about it.

With the disappearance of Maddie, there was no closure, and with it came that sense of helplessness you just can't shake off. Like, you know you should be doing something to help, but what? What can you possibly do to help? Even now, she dominates the news -- random sightings, quick updates on the family, what Maddie would look like today and, lately, the family's book release and the ensuing Twitter abuse.

In the Woods shows exactly what lack of closure and/or involvement can do to a person. In the case of Maddie, there's still that desperate want to know. It's in our psyche to want information, and Maddie's disappearance gave us none. We thrive on knowledge, because we know what to do or how to act; but there was no knowledge with her. To this day, reading about the case gives me chills. Rob, however, lives the nightmare every single day, trying to dig through those lost memories to find out what happened, exactly, that summer day in Knocknaree.

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Rob Ryan is now a detective in the Murder squad and, with the appearance of the body of a twelve year old girl, Rob and his partner Cassie take it upon themselves to find out the truth... even if it means Rob has to go back to the woods, where everything began.

In the Woods is emotionally investing. I don't think I've ever felt so many emotions, enough to make me stop reading for a few days. You go into it with doomed certainty that something terrible happens or the author just about plays Russian roulette with your feelings. I've never felt such a feeling of hollowness, sadness, abandonment, of complete unfulfilment. It sneaks up on you, guys, and you don't even realise it's happening. Next thing you know, you're sobbing, clutching a pack of cigarettes to your chest and reaching for the vodka with your spare hand.

Rob Ryan... I have a lot to say about him. He's the type of character you fall in love with, you hate, you scorn, you mock. He isn't just a made up person on paper, he's as real as you and I.

Adolescent conversations, no doubt, and made more so by the fact that Cassie and I brought out the brat in each other ("Bite me, Ryan," she would say, narrowing her eyes at me across the futon, and I would grab her arm and bite her wrist till she yelled for mercy), but I had never had them in my adolescence and I loved them, I loved every moment.

Not only are you bound to fall in love with Rob, but also with Cassie. The narration bringing you their friendship and partnership is incredibly stark, raw and real. You feel everything they feel, see it all through their eyes, and when things become ugly and desperate, you jump right onto that wagon with them.

Even after all this time, I find it difficult to describe them to you. They were so full of little things, things that at the time seemed insignificant and disconnected as the jumble of objects in some bizarre parlor game: faces and phrases and sitting rooms and phone calls, all running together into a single strobe-light blur. It was only much later, in the stale cold light of hindisight, that the little things rose up and rearranged themselves and clicked neatly into place to form the pattern we should have seen all along.

As I said before, it starts with this doomed certainty, with these mentions of "hindsight", that I found myself terrified and excited to carry on.

I wasn't disappointed. Tana French has become number one on my top-authors-to-read list.

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