I remember when I picked up Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller, The Girl on the Train. It was the end of summer, 2015. I was in my favorite bookstore in my college town, browsing before I checked out the books I needed for classes. At that point, I had never heard of Paula Hawkins or The Girl on the Train. I had barely any experience with thrillers in general. I picked it up on a whim, and I loved it. So when I heard she had a new book coming out in 2017, I had to check it out. Here’s what I thought about Into the Water.
About the book: Nel and Jules Abbott grew up in Beckford, near the Drowning Pool. They’d heard the stories of the women who had died there under all sorts of circumstances. Jules thought she had left that place behind for good, but Nel was too obsessed to ever let it go–until her obsession cost her her life in that same infamous section of the river. Now that she’s dead–exact cause to be determined–Jules must return to settle her affairs and take up custody of Nel’s teenage daughter. The investigation hits a snag, though. Not long before Nel’s death, a teenaged girl committed suicide in the Drowning Pool, and the deaths seem to be connected by some unlikely thread. Someone has all the pieces–is it the local policeman and his family? The mother of the girl who committed suicide? Nel’s daughter or sister? The “psychic” trying to keep a standing in Beckford? Everyone’s connected, and yet each story is distinct, a braid of woven threads rather than a single strand. But until the mystery is solved, there’s no telling who’ll be next to go into the water.
“You didn’t tell the truth, you never did–the stories you’d been telling weren’t the truth, they were your truth, your agenda.”
About the layout: Jules Abbott, sister to the most recently deceased woman, addresses her narrated sections to Nel. At first seems confusing, because she’s the first narrator of the book and early in the section there’s also a general “you” being used; it took me a minute to figure out that a sort of second-person narration was in play (although she also narrates herself as “I” and “me,” in the first-person narrative style), and then it took me almost her entire first section to understand who that “you” was aimed toward. Once that’s cleared up, though, it’s one of the most interesting aspects of the book. The fact that Jules seems to center all of her thoughts around her sister, to address every impression and emotion first to “you,” someone who is gone, is deeply compelling and unsettling at once.
“You were never the princess, you were never the passive beauty waiting for a prince, you were something else. You sided with darkness, with the wicked stepmother, the bad fairy, the witch.”
Then we have Lena solidly in the first person; she’s the daughter of the dead woman, and although she does care deeply about certain characters, she’s the youngest and the most self-centered, which makes this other switch in narrative style equally fitting for her character.
“I lay on my bed in silence. I can’t even listen to music because I feel everything has this other meaning that I didn’t see before and it hurts too fucking much to face it now. I don’t want to cry all the time, it makes my chest hurt and my throat hurt, and the worst thing is that no one comes to help me. There’s no one left to help me.”
Other than these two exceptions, the characters of Into the Water are given short, alternating sections of third-person narration.
“She was not the woman she used to be. She could feel herself slipping, slithering as though she were shedding a skin, and she didn’t like the rawness underneath, she didn’t like the smell of it. It made her feel vulnerable, it made her feel afraid.”
I would hardly call this book a thriller. A mystery, a murder mystery, but not a thriller because of the nature of its tension. Into the Water is not a breath-snatching, heart-pounding hurricane wave of clues and deceptions and danger, but an unrelenting current of unease, of nagging suspicion and dark inevitability. The evil lies not with a single person, but spread through everyone in the town. Whether Nel jumped or was pushed, no one in this tale is innocent, and the secrets are bound to wash up after the storm of deaths and accusations passes.
“I thought how odd it was that parents believe they know their children, understand their children. Do they not remember what it was like to be eighteen, or fifteen, or twelve? Perhaps having children makes you forget being one. I remember you at seventeen and me at thirteen, and I’m certain that our parents had no idea who we were.”
I’m not convinced any of these characters really know who they are at present, either. This is as much a story of self-discovery as a revelation of the people each character thought they knew so well. None of them are particularly likable, but they’re captivating. They’re creepy. They’re the best sort of characters to read about in the dark, maybe with the sound of water moving in the background.
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This was not the page-turner I expected, but considering I hadn’t known anything about the story going in, I’m not sure I can justify having expected anything. I liked the mystery, though. I liked the flawed characters and their messed-up secrets. Well, I didn’t like them particularly, but I wanted to see what had made them that way and where it would lead them. It wasn’t my favorite book of the year or anything, but I had no trouble finishing it in just a couple of days and I’m still 100% committed to reading whatever Paula Hawkins publishes next, so I’d call it a success.
- For a more thrilling tale of water-related intrigue, check out The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. (Or just read it in preparation of Ware’s new release coming out in July, also related to drowning.) In this one, a journalist on a new leisure boat must get to the bottom of the absence of one of the passengers that no one else on the boat will acknowledge ever existed.
- If it’s the characters who kept you going in Into the Water, check out Erika Carter’s Lucky You, a literary fiction book about three women and one boyfriend who go off to live in the woods to escape civilization. They’re looking for a change, looking for answers in their unhappy lives, but the problems lie within themselves and none of them can get off their respective paths of self-destruction.
What’s next: I’m currently reading my next Cassandra Clare book, as part of my quest to read all of her novels this year. Now that her newest release, Lord of Shadows, is almost out in the world, I’m pretty eager to catch up to that point. I’ve got a few more to read first, though, starting with Clockwork Prince, book two in the Infernal Devices trilogy. It’s a reread for me, but I don’t remember much, so you’ll have to wait for my upcoming review to see what trouble Tessa and her new Shadowhunter friends will be finding in Victorian London this time.
The Literary Elephant