INTO THE WATER by Paula Hawkins
US pub date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Riverhead Books
My review on Goodreads
As someone who liked but didn’t love The Girl on the Train, my expectations for Into the Water weren’t particularly high. If anything, I was expecting another entertaining but fairly run of the mill thriller with a predictable outcome. (Honestly, I only added Into the Water to this month’s BOTM box because I loved the cover so much.) But I loved this, and if I was secretly expecting Paula Hawkins to rest on her laurels a little bit with her sophomore novel, I was proved very, very wrong. Into the Water outdoes The Girl on the Train in just about every conceivable way.
Into the Water begins when Jules Abbot gets a call that her sister Nel is dead, drowned. This brings Jules back to the small town of Beckford where she grew up, and into a complicated web of small town dynamics, packed to the brim with deceit and betrayal. Before she died, Nel was working on a project about “The Drowning Pool,” a local piece of lore involving the mysterious deaths of women dating back to the 1700s, all of whom died at the same spot in the river. But how many of those women committed suicide, and how many were murdered? When Nel Abbot meets her end there, the mystery surrounding The Drowning Pool takes center stage, as everyone tries to make sense of what happened.
Into the Water is cleverly plotted, intricate, and nuanced; and sure, I was able to guess a few of the reveals, but some of them came as a surprise. I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery/mysteries, but more importantly, I just enjoyed the ride. There are a lot of subplots in this story, but information is consistently revealed at a satisfying pace. Reading this book is like slowly assembling a jigsaw puzzle – it’s slow at times, but steady, and before you know it you’re completely sucked in and you’ve lost track of time, because you’re so focused on finding the next piece. For this reason, there isn’t necessarily one shocking reveal at the end: the final chapter is more of a quiet sort of ‘ah, of course’ moment, the last piece settling into place, but I was okay with that. I think I’ve read too many thrillers where the author tries too hard to be surprising and throws in an outlandish twist at the last moment, so I’ve come to favor this sort of denouement. It probably won’t make you gasp out loud, but it feels appropriate.
This book isn’t going to work for everyone. Keep this in mind: if you are someone who gets confused by a lot of names and frequent POV switches, you will find this book maddening. There are at least 10 different narrators, all of whom have boring names like Mark and Josh and Jules and Sean. I’m good with names, so this wasn’t an issue for me, but I understand why a lot of readers are turned off by the sheer amount of characters to keep track of in this book. It’s actually rather reminiscent of The Casual Vacancy in this regard (small town intrigue with a massive host of characters), so if you were someone who hated The Casual Vacancy for this reason, this probably won’t be for you.
One final note to consider if you’re thinking about reading this: trigger warning for rape. There’s nothing particularly graphic, and I actually thought it was dealt with rather sensitively (bringing to light questions of victim blaming, as well as the importance of educating young people about consent, and about “not saying no does not mean yes.”) That said, it’s a rather omnipresent thread in one character’s narrative, so if you’re triggered by this, you may want to skip this one.
If you were underwhelmed by The Girl on the Train, I’d still recommend giving Into the Water a shot. This is where Paula Hawkins really shows what she’s capable of, both in terms of quality of prose as well as the skillful execution of a much more nuanced story. I’m sure some people who loved The Girl on the Train won’t like this one as much – there’s no denying that it’s quite different, in tone and subject – but it worked for me. I enjoyed reading both The Girl on the Train and Into the Water, but after I finished the former I put it down with a sense of frustration and anticlimax, and with the latter I feel mostly content.