Tana French’s “In the Woods”

Many times, when we read an author, we are anxious to compare her to someone else.  Mentioning to a friend that I was really enjoying Gillian Flynn, she said “well, if you like her, you’ll love Tana French.”  So I tried her, and I do.  The genre is similar, the writing not identical, but probably equally as good.  Oh, and did I mention that she is Irish?  Yes.  Yes, she is.

French has written a series of crime fiction/mystery novels.  Not sequels exactly, the next book in the series takes a character from its predecessor and spins off, writing a new story from that character’s perspective.  There is some overlap, of course, but it is a new and fresh idea, and I really enjoy it.

The first book in the series is In the Woods.  I thought it was very good and spooky.  French has a way with language and description that makes her books more literary than a lot of other writing in this crime genre.  More attention is paid to description and character development, and I quite enjoy this.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were three parts of this first book that stood out for me particularly.

First, relatively early in the book, the main character, who is male, states:

The spark of animosity this ignited increased my attraction to her.  There is a side of me that is most intensely attracted to women who annoy me.

Fascinating concept, is it not?  Can anyone relate?  Also, what does it say of the author, a woman, writing this from the perspective of a male character?  Does she feel this way about other people, or does she feel that a man has felt this way about her?  Or is it pure fiction?


I am not good at noticing I’m happy, except in retrospect.  My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia.

French has my number here, for sure.  Why do we feel this way?  Is it a failure to live in the moment?  Is there something wrong or unhealthy about nostalgia?  If so, I am in big trouble.

Finally, there is a portion in the book where a character recites a very beautiful poem (I will not completely recreate it here; copyright issues and whatever) but in a chilling and, I thought, inappropriate context.  And I found it both pretty and disturbing.  The image/poem has stayed with me.

Also, throughout the story, there is a very interesting treatment of the the age-old man-woman “just friends” debate, as I believe we have discussed, or at least thought about, here before.  Can it happen?  If so, under what circumstances?  And are both parties coming at it from the same direction, wanting (and perhaps more importantly not wanting) the same things?

Her next book is The Likeness, and I have a copy already, and I am very much looking forward to sneaking a flashlight under the covers and digging into it.  Would I call her the next Gillian Flynn, or the original Gillian Flynn, or the Irish Gillian Flynn?  No.  They aren’t exactly the same, as no two writers really are.  But, like my friend told me, if you like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like the other.  Why deny yourself wonderful reading from two of the most entertaining writers I’ve encountered in some time?

Interesting side note: it turns out Tana French and I had the same high school English teacher.  It’s a small world.  Maybe there is hope for me yet.



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