Book review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Friday, April 28, 2017 Permalink

I had the opportunity to read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins much earlier than its release here in Australia. Although I enjoyed the book and quite liked our heavy-drinking dog-with-a-bone protagonist Rachel, I was surprised by the book’s success. But then again I said the same about Gone Girl, so that possibly says something about my taste…

Both to me had rather unsatisfying endings. I don’t mind a bit of ambiguity or a last-minute twist but I think there’s usually some expectation of justice. Or karma. Or something.

Book review: Into the Water by Paula HawkinsInto the Water
by Paula Hawkins
Published by Doubleday
on May 2nd 2017
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 0857524437,9780857524430
Pages: 368

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it unfolds from many MANY points of view. Each chapter or section is headed with a person’s name, so we know we’ve switched heads…. but until we get to know who’s who, it can be a little disconcerting. And I noted we were in six different heads before page 28 or so.

However… once we learn how and where everyone fits in, the point of view-jumping is far more comfortable and our characters’ heads an easier place to reside.

Unlike The Girl on The Train Hawkins doesn’t really give us one central character. Or if she does it’s Jules, but that’s only because that’s where we start and her chapters are written in second person, as if she’s writing to her sister, Nel. We spend a lot of time with other characters and Hawkins offers a complex but interesting (almost literal) web of intrigue.

There’s the backdrop of Beckford and the Drowning Pool.

Its name carries weight; and yet, what is it? A bend in the river, that’s all. A meander. You’ll find it if you follow the river in all its twists and turns, swelling and flooding, giving life and taking it too….

But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down, jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation. p 37

It’s a town and river steeped in history. And not all of it pretty, starting hundreds of years earlier, with the drowning of women believed to be witches, and then women it’s drawn to its shores, “the unlucky, the desperate, the unhappy, the lost.” And, in the words of its latest victim…. “Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.” p 83

We arrive after the most recent drownings – that of 15yr old schoolgirl Katie and now Nel Abbott.

Hawkins spends a lot of time describing the river, and its dark brooding shores seem to reflect the tone and tenor of the town and its residents. Bleak environs similar to those I see in UK TV shows, like Broadchurch  and The Fall came to mind. (As an aside, I never saw The Girl on the Train movie, but I can’t help but wonder how well it translated into a US setting.)

It’s hard to talk much about the characters as there are so many. We meet Katie’s family – her mother and younger brother in particular. Police officer Sean Townsend and his wife (the school principal) and his father in whose footsteps he now treads.

There’s another teacher, a newly transferred police officer and a town eccentric who claims she speaks to dead people and knows more than she should. And of course there’s Jules and her niece, Lena.

And like the players in The Girl on The Train, they’re all varying shades of grey. Some aren’t so nice, but they’re not all bad either. It’s a reminder that good and bad exists in us all, to some extent. And the fact we let others see only what we’re willing to share.

Whereas Hawkins’ first book felt more character-driven, this is all about the town’s folklore and the way it impacted on events of the past and continues to influence the now. Recent events are intertwined with the town’s history but, we’re forced to wonder if that’s what we’re supposed to think, and the whole self-fulfilling prophecy / cycle thingy comes to mind. 

Indeed, the unfolding narrative is as much about human frailty, our imperfections and our willingness to let go of the past as it is about the fate of Katie and Nel.

I enjoyed this intriguing novel and don’t think Hawkins falls into that second book trap, although my expectations probably weren’t as high as others’ will be.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins will be published in Australia by Penguin Random House and available from 2 May 2017.

I received an early proof of this book from the publisher for review purposes.



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