At this point, after reading every one of Ruth Ware’s books as soon as I could get my greedy little hands on them, I would call myself a Ruth Ware fan. Nay, a Ruth Ware stan! Ware has been writing some of the most intelligent, incisive, well-paced psychological thrillers around since 2014, and her latest continues to uphold her impeccable standards. In The It Girl, a new student to Oxford becomes obsessed with her glamorous roommate, who never misses a party and always gets good grades. When her roommate is murdered, a porter takes the blame, but 10 years later, the question of true guilt is once again wide open. Who killed the It Girl? Did they want her or want to be her? You’ll have to read this one to find out! Ruth Ware was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new book and her signature writing style.
Molly Odintz: What did you want to explore about the allure of the it girl?
Ruth Ware: I suppose it was more that I wanted to explore what happens when people die—and particularly when that death is traumatic and tragic. The media tends to box people up in very specific ways—the angel who didn’t deserve this, the tragic victim of her own circumstances, the what-can-we-learn-from-her mistakes victim, the she-was-too-good-for-this-world paragon. It’s understandable that we want crimes to fit a particular kind of narrative, but I think sometimes the complexity of the people involved can get lost in the desire to turn the events into a parable. I wanted to write someone who emphatically wasn’t just a victim, someone complicated, who it would be very hard to put into a box. I suppose the intersection with the It Girl phenomenon of a few years back is that both situations cast a strange light on the way we talk about women, particularly young women, who are caught up in the public gaze, and how we deal with young women who don’t fit the roles assigned to them.
MO: Your use of multiple timelines was skillfully done. What’s your advice when it comes to dividing your story into multiple time periods?
RW: Thank you! I don’t know if I have any advice really; I tend to just write like I’m reading a book, playing it by ear. I enjoy the back and forth, and it’s an easy way of balancing tensions within a narrative, because if events are flagging in one timeline, you can skip forward to something exciting in the other. With Hannah’s present day narrative I was fairly restricted in terms of chronology. Writing the past narrative I could skip back and forth a little more, which made it easier to balance the highs and lows of the plot. It’s not something I think very hard about though—I would say it comes more instinctively than by design.
MO: The It Girl is your venture into Dark Academia. What is it about college that’s so fertile for psychological thrillers?
RW: I don’t know, but it surprises me that there aren’t more thrillers set in colleges and universities. It’s such an important turning point—the moment we take flight and become independent adults. It’s also a very vulnerable moment in some ways—you’re handed a lot of freedom and responsibility almost overnight, before you’ve maybe developed the strategies to handle difficult situations. I look back at some of the adventures I threw myself into as a young women—like moving to Paris with nothing but a suitcase and a handful of francs. I didn’t even have a place to stay, just the address of a cheap hotel and enough money for three nights—and I’m amazed at my own courage, and also at my parents’ courage in letting me do it! In my case it all worked out and turned into an amazing adventure, but I suppose there’s always that “what if?” What if things had gone wrong, would I have had the resources and experience I have now to handle it? I think that’s partly what the It Girl is about—something terrible happens to Hannah just at the moment she ought to be blossoming—and it affects the rest of her life.
MO: Class is very much a concern for your protagonist. How important are class differences today, in the rarified world of Oxford and in England in general?
RW: I think hugely important, still. We live in a world where the economic gap between rich and poor is widening precipitously after decades of narrowing, and it’s becoming one of the great problems of our age. Oxford is, I think, increasingly trying to be part of the solution by widening access and shaking off its reputation as an old boys’ club, although there’s still a lot of work to do. Having said that, I think the UK has one great advantage which is—oddly—that we all KNOW class is an issue; there’s absolutely no pretense that it doesn’t exist and that we’re all born to an equal playing field. If you live in a monarchy where some people are literally handed the keys to the kingdom just by virtue of their birth, it’s very hard to deny that privilege exists. Because all societies have classes, whether or not they call them Lords and Countesses. Not admitting that is part of the problem.
MO: So often we define ourselves against each other. What did you want to say about the dynamics of female friendship?
RW: Good question! Honestly, I don’t know, except that female friendship—all friendship really—is complicated. It’s sometimes passionate, sometimes defining, sometimes toxic, sometimes life-changingly brilliant. I’m not sure what I wanted to say or do, other than explore the complexity of a relationship that’s often underplayed in terms of its importance. There’s so much written about romantic love and sexual relationships. In comparison, the complexity and importance of friendships are sometimes underplayed, I think.
MO: What’s on the horizon for you?
RW: Lots and LOTS of bookshop events (for a start) and then, I guess, knuckling down to another book!
MO: What’s on your nightstand?
RW: About 40 books—a mix of thrillers I’ve been sent for work and comfort reads to help me fall asleep at night. But the book I’m reading at the moment is Alias Emma by Ava Glass, which is excellent escapism.