Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Into the Water: 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.
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.
It’s impossible to pin down the alchemy that turns a novel like Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train into an unstoppable bestseller. It was a beautifully twisty, chilling thriller, but so were many others published in 2015. It can’t all be attributed to the magic of the now-ubiquitous “girl” in the title. But perhaps it has something to do with the apparent simplicity of its concept – a woman who drinks too much sees something she shouldn’t have from a train window. It’s easy to tell people about; it’s easy to imagine ourselves into the heroine’s situation.
There’s no simple, one-line description for Hawkins’s follow-up, Into the Water, released two years after The Girl on the Train, when the author might have been still lounging around on the riches earned from global sales of 18m copies. In contrast to the three narrators of Girl, Into the Water has at least 11. Rather than digging into the lives of a few characters, Hawkins throws her net across an entire town. That’s Beckford, in the countryside near Newcastle, a place with a river running through it and a pool where women, “all those troublesome women”, have drowned themselves, or been drowned, for centuries. “People turned a blind eye, though, didn’t they? No one liked to think about the fact that the water in that river was infected with the blood and bile of persecuted women, unhappy women; they drank it every day.”
Hawkins’s story opens with the death of Nel Abbott in the Drowning Pool, a death that her teenage daughter Lena believes was suicide, but that Nel’s estranged sister Jules, summoned reluctantly back to Beckford, believes was something else. As Jules looks for answers, in her own past and among the locals, she finds that Nel has made a number of enemies while writing a book about the Beckford drownings, and that Lena’s best friend, Katie, died a few months earlier in the same place. “Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women,” Nel wrote.
There are so many strands that it’s hard to keep track, with viewpoints given to everyone from the local psychic to a school teacher, a headmistress and the police investigating Nel’s death. Hawkins provides us with more unreliable narrators than you can shake a stick at, and in case we forget they aren’t telling us, or even themselves, the whole truth, they say ominous things like “I couldn’t touch her. Not after what I’d done.”
“Seriously: how is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” observes Erin, the outsider police officer who’s been banished to Beckford from London.
Into the Water isn’t as slick or as clever – or as relatable – as The Girl on the Train, but it’s creepy enough, provided you can stay on top of the multiple voices and the deaths piling up through the centuries. The supernatural tinge given by the psychic might not be to everyone’s liking, but I think Hawkins pulls it off pretty nicely, and I will admit to having to put the novel aside when home alone one evening: my litmus test for scares.
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