Review: Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

My Review

A string of mysterious drownings plague a small British town—the latest a single mother with a penchant for trouble.

With the international success of The Girl on the Train, readers like me had big expectations of Paula Hawkin’s sophomore effort. With Into The Water, Hawkins once again channels unreliable narration to spin a sinister, murky tale thrumming with unease. Deception runs deep amongst the townsfolk—those who’ve lost mothers, daughters, friends. Everyone is keeping secrets while the truth hides beneath dark waters, with the “troublesome” women who perished.

“Some say the women left something of themselves in the water; some say it retains some of their power, for ever since then it has drawn to its shores the unlucky, the desperate, the unhappy, the lost. They come here to swim with their sisters.”

While the novel is thoughtfully written, it sadly fell short of what I’d hoped. Too-slow pacing kept me indifferent, while the number of characters felt too many, making it confounding to follow.

The story opens with the death of Danielle (Nell) Abbott, who leaves behind a tormented daughter and a sister she’d not spoken to in years. Nell had been poking into the past, into the lives of those who’d died in what is referred to as Beckford’s “Drowning Pool.” Nell herself had felt a life-long affinity to the water, an obsession that fueled her fascination into the deaths of these women—why they did it, what they felt as they crashed into water, who drove them to jump off that cliff… or had they even jumped at all?

As Jules (her sister), Lena (her daughter) and those around them try to make sense of what’s happened, we gradually learn how each is connected to Nell, her death, and the deaths of the women who’ve come before. The ultimate reveal is of course what happened the night Nell “fell” to her death—no huge twist to pay off the sluggish pace.

The web is tightly tangled and its unravelling too slow, too predictable and as I mentioned above, a bit tough to follow. There’s no real thrill to the narrative, more of a slowly creeping unease and a psychological exploration of these small-town characters. There’s a historical thread that’s interesting and could have been better developed, and a couple more compelling characters that beckoned for a louder voice.

Hawkins is undeniably talented, so I’m hoping for better things to come.

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

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Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

My Thoughts

An addictive, suspenseful page turner.

3.5 – 4 stars.

Synopsis

the girl on train coverA debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

My Review

The blurb above notes that this book is ‘compulsively readable’ and I think that statement best sums up how I felt about this novel. I just couldn’t put the book down despite some issues that affected my overall reading experience. I wanted to know what happened, how the mystery would unravel, how secrets would tumble out. Author Paula Hawkins did a good job of keeping me on edge as the novel unwound in an almost cinematic fashion. The story was always in motion with shifting timelines and questionable stories recounted by untrustworthy characters. Imagination and reality dueled as I sought the truth to the events that led to the disappearance of one of our three female protagonists.

“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.”

We first meet Rachel—the girl on the train—who has lost her job, lost her husband and exists most regularly in a drunken stupor. To escape her sad reality, she revels in a fantasy where two people live an idyllic life. Two strangers whom she sees every day as she glimpses out of her window on the train. But one day, everything changes and she finds herself caught up in a chilling mystery where her past, present and fantasy worlds collide.

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

We also meet Megan, half of the happy duo Rachel sees from her faraway perspective. Megan is happily married to Scott, or at least that’s what Rachel surmises. But in reality, Megan’s life is not what it seems, and chapter by chapter, we learn just how much her facade hides. Down the street from Megan, live Rachel’s ex husband Tom and his wife, Anna. And it is on this street, behind the walls of these homes, that the story takes flight, connecting the lives of these five people in the most twisted, unexpected ways.

“There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”

The crux of the story revolves around the disappearance of Megan Hipwell, and what happened on the night she disappeared. The same night Rachel was so drunk that she stumbled home bleeding, her memories swiped clean.

What happened? Who was responsible? What role, if any, did Rachel play?

To me, the novel had many strengths. It was absolutely impressive as a debut novel. The plot was strong, hinting at a myriad of possible scenarios. Hawkins is masterful at delivering three point of views, giving us just enough to confuse us and entice us… keep us on edge. I loved how she explored the fallibility of memory and the power of imagination and suggestion. Each of the characters in the story is at best unreliable and deceptive, and at worst, a murderer hiding in plain sight.

The first half of the story felt slower to me, perhaps lingering too much on certain aspects, but the second half of the book moved much more quickly. The biggest issues I had were with the female characters… they frustrated me, particularly Rachel. I’m not saying the characterization was not done well, it’s just that these women were often irritating. Rachel especially made horrible decisions, pushing herself into situations she had no business being in and on top of that, she was drunk most of the novel. I completely understand that was likely the intent, evidencing the unreliability of her persona, but it unfortunately curbed my reading enjoyment. In fact, her story felt very tragic and sad, and I couldn’t help but feel the very thing she detested most… pity.

Overall, the novel is definitely well written, richly imagined and masterfully twisted, despite the frustrating choices of our heroines. The end was fabulously executed and I was really happy with the conclusion. I listened to the story on Audible, which was particularly great for discerning between the various POVs. If you’re a fan of suspense, this is definitely a story worth reading.

“The holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mould yourself through the gaps.”

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✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

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