If you’ve been around this blog for a while, this title might sound a little familiar. Yes, indeed, this is the third time I’ve read this book, and the second and third time I’ve inflicted it on a book club (multi-tasking!). So I’m just going to skip the plot rehashing (previous blog posts linked below) and go straight into the thinky thoughts.
It was really fascinating to read this book a third time; I almost never re-read books and this may be the only book I’ve read three times in adulthood (well, maybe The Phantom Tollbooth?). In my first reading, my big takeaway from the novel was the insane, convoluted path the case took to the absolutely frustrating ending. Throw-the-book-across-the-room frustrating. Uggggh. In the second reading, I made a point of looking for all the hints and clues French left pointing toward said ending, and oh my goodness there were so many.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this reading — what could possibly be left to interest me for 400-some pages? Lots, actually. This time around I found myself drawn to Rob Ryan’s constant refrain of “I’m a liar” and “I am not to be trusted” and noting the holes in his narrative. How did he really feel about Cassie? Why was he so set on remaining on this case? What the heck really happened in those woods all those years ago? My book-club-mates came up with some ideas for that last one that I hadn’t thought of through three entire readings, and that I would have dismissed out of hand after two of them, but now I am definitely wondering. Darn you, unreliable narrator!
The other thing I noticed more in this reading was French’s devotion to the setting. I wasn’t really versed in Gothic literature until well after reading this book the first time and maybe even after the second, so I kind of didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the Knocknaree woods are practically a character in their own right, hiding secret castles and spiriting away children and becoming an obsession for more than one otherwise-rational dude. At first, French’s attention to detail frustrated me a bit, as I was like, dude, I forgot how long this book is and book club is coming faster than I anticipated and let’s just get back to the horrifying murder, ‘kay? But then her gorgeous writing won me over and I was happy to let her words wash over me late, late into the night so that I could finish the book in time.
I warned one of my book clubs that they were all going to hate the ending, as there is absolutely no way to finish this book the first time and not want to punch one or more fictional characters right in the face, and at the meeting they were all like, you were SO right. But it’s a testament to the strength of French’s writing that half of them were excited to hear that there were more books to read and more ridiculous murders to solve (or not solve, as the case may be).
The fact that I was willing to read the book three times is also telling, although there is very little that would compel me to go for four. I actually liked this book better the second time around, when I could see all the awful coming and note how skillfully French made it impossible to see the first time, but on a third reading it became less of a fantastic story and more of a piece of literature to be broken down and analyzed and while it was a fascinating read, it just wasn’t as fun as I remembered. Luckily French continues to provide me new things to read, including this fall’s The Secret Place (which I am SO EXCITED about omg), so I can get back to having fun very soon!
Recommendation: For those who’ve bought a hard copy ready to be thrown across the room and those who love a great turn of phrase as much as a great plot twist.
Rating: 8/10 this time, but grudgingly.