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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In the Woods

It had to come to an end at some point. The experience of listening to the audiobook version of In the Woods, by Tana French, was a constant delight that enveloped me for 21 hours over a period of more than two weeks. Much of the credit has to go to narrator Steven Crossley, who brings the entire narrative to life, including an array of a dozen major characters who all sound distinct and true-to-life in Crossley’s reading. It’s a total pleasure to listen to him.

It’s also a total pleasure to be captivated by the gorgeously poetic language of Tana French, whom I don’t otherwise know as an author. The heightened intensity of her words couldn’t possibly continue for 21 hours, and of course it doesn’t, but quite a number of passages read more like poetry than prose. All of this occurs in the context of a novel that looks like a police procedural but isn’t really. It’s actually a psychological novel about introspection, the effect of early experiences, and interactions among well-developed characters. Some reviews have missed the point and have criticized French for not following all the conventions of the mystery genre. But it’s unfair to criticize her for not writing a different book! In the Woods doesn’t follow the mystery genre because it’s not a genre novel. Like a number of other examples of serious literature, it adopts the framework of a police procedural but has an entirely different program. I don’t want to reveal any of the details other than to say that the narrative takes place within a homicide squad of a modern Irish police department. Definitely read it — but don’t expect everything to be nicely tied up at the end as you would anticipate in a conventional mystery!

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