Summary and book reviews of In A Dark Wood by Amanda Craig

In A Dark Wood

By Amanda Craig

In A Dark Wood
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2002,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2003,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Interspersing the magic of fairy tales with a wry yet touching narrative, Amanda Craig examines the thin line between fantasy and reality, creativity and mental illness.

Benedick Hunter is a recently divorced, out-of-work, thirty-nine-year-old actor. Feeling both guilty and sorry for himself, he blunders through weekends with his two spirited children and fends off various women desperate to snare an eligible man, all the time fearing that he is on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

His life takes on a new direction, however, when he discovers a long-forgotten book of fairy tales his mother wrote and illustrated decades earlier. Drawn to its pages, he becomes entranced by the hints of reality embedded in the stories, from thinly veiled portraits of his own father and his parents’ acquaintances to alluring glimpses of his mother as a young woman. Convinced that the stories can explain his mother’s suicide when he was six and put an end to his agonizing mood swings, Benedick embarks on a journey to untangle the past, a journey that eventually takes him to the heart of his own nature, modern fatherhood, manic depression, and the elusive character of fairy-tales.

With imagination and incisive wit, Amanda Craig has written a novel that was selected as one of the "best of the year’s books" by the The Times of London, which wrote, "Although not frightening enough to give you sleepless nights, Craig’s wonderful, page-turning storytelling will keep you up way past your time for bed."

Chapter One

The book, her book, was bound in black, with the words North of Nowhere indented in worn gold on the spine. Dirty and dusty, the boards loose under the cloth, it resembled a kind of withered bat. I looked at it with vague distaste. Then, almost as if it had suddenly come to life, it slithered out of my grasp, jabbed my foot, bounced and splayed open. I picked it up. I didn't know then how dangerous fairy tales can be.

I was trying to separate my possessions from those of my wife, Georgina. A biography in books, this is why some people scan your shelves, in the manner of a Roman seer gazing at entrails. There were duplicate editions of T. S. Eliot and Shakespeare, of Beckett, Pinter, and Joyce. My own copies of Conrad, Dostoevsky, and Waugh jumbled up with her Austen, George Eliot and the Brontës...the male versus the female canon. The plays I had been in, with my parts underlined in lurid orange. Her university texts, with notes scribbled in pencil or biro. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Contemplating his divorce, Benedick describes his state of mind: "What frightened me most was, I could no longer believe in my own life as a story. Everyone needs a story, a part to play in order to avoid the realization that life is without significance. How else do any of us survive? It's what makes life bearable, even interesting. When it becomes neither, people say you've lost the plot. Or just lost it" [p. 19]. At the end of the novel, when Benedick finds acting work, he concludes: "It was this, I think, as much as the lithium, that made me better. It meant that I hadn't been written out of the story of my life. People say that life has no story, that to believe it does is a symptom of madness, and I had...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Helen Dunmore
'A most unusual, bold and imaginative novel, and a very moving one'

Sunday Times (UK)

'Polished prose and flashing wit.'

The Times of London

Although not frightening enough to give you sleepless nights, Craig’s wonderful, page-turning storytelling will keep you up way past your time for bed.

Library Journal

An intriguing idea is marred by poor execution in Craig's novel, which was a great success in England in 2000..... Although the story is engaging and maintains interest, its weaknesses overpower its strengths. Neither Benedick's mania nor his children are convincingly depicted ... and the book reads as if it were switching genres from realistic fiction to Gothic romance.

Publishers Weekly

With a sure hand, Craig brings chilling suspense and dark humor to a stylized study of the loss of childhood innocence, the complexities of creativity and the correlation between artistic genius and mental health all expertly cloaked in the symbols and metaphors of fairy tales.

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