Chances are that most of you reading this will have read Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, a book that took the world by storm and to this day has sold close to 20 million copies worldwide, hit the No.1 spot in 26 territories and has been turned into a feature film adaption that was a box office hit. But the question lingers in the air that befalls all debut authors after so high a success, can lightening strike twice? Hawkins certainly gives it her all in her new novel Into the Water, in which a small town is rocked by the drowning of a local woman in the bend of the river known, for centuries, as the drowning pool. The victim's sister, Jules, now has to return to the town, to the one place she swore she would never return to and care for the teenage daughter her sister left behind. But why is Jules so afraid? And what secrets are left to be uncovered?
As someone who didn't really get on with The Girl on the Train I didn't have the highest of expectations going into the novel. However, I was sucked in by the simplistic yet utterly persuasive way in which Hawkins writes, ending each chapter in a cliffhanger-type fashion and scattering red herrings throughout to keep me speculating. It became like an addictive substance, and I owe that purely to the cleverness of Hawkins' writing. Much like The Girl on the Train, the narrative is split between multiple perspectives (this time jumping from three voices to, at times, six or seven) which can be jarring and confusing at times. Understandably, this is to create a sense of unity between the people living in the town, their story becomes part of the main narrative in one way or other, past or present. It reminded me of ITV's Broadchurch, in the sense of a community united in tragedy but also united in hiding secrets, which kept me thoroughly engaged.
In terms of hitting the standard thriller boxes, Hawkins heartily ticks most of them in a strong fashion, crafting suspense and agonising moments of heart-pounding intensity, but she got my attention most (potential spoiler alert) through the supernatural mythology that surrounded the drowning pool, which is at the heart of the story. Mentions of witchcraft are thrown in to the mix but never fully explained or drawn out, and I wish this was explored more as I found the idea absolutely fascinating, especially as it sat so well with the psychological thriller genre and it becomes a little more fleshed out, than say The Girl on the Train was.
However, the problems that sat with The Girl on the Train still sit here. Hawkins still doesn't quite understand how to write female characters, with the general overview that women are "troubled" somehow. Whether it be a past that's haunting them, strained relationships, substance abuse, it again falls into the stereotyping bracket, which I felt hindered The Girl on the Train from truly being a great novel, and almost borders on to 'mad-woman-in-the-attic' territory. Why some psychological thriller writers choose to portray female characters in this 'troubled' way (which I think we can assume is a euphemism for 'insane', looking at YOU Gone Girl) is uncertain but I find it problematic and stops me from fully engaging with the story. As for the ending, at first I found it extremely anti-climatic and just as I was about to go off on a very long and rage induced rant, I re-read the last two sentences and realised I had missed the biggest twist of the novel. Then, I retracted my thoughts and said aloud "well played Hawkins. Well played." She is brilliant at what she does, and I cannot commend her enough for providing a very entertaining story, it's just a shame the problems from The Girl on the Train were not ironed out in order to make this even better.
Dark, increasingly suspenseful and addictive in every way possible, Paula Hawkins crafts an entertaining story and just about carries it with an underlying mythology, though it is still let down by the same problems of stereotyping and an incohesive narrative structure. Though if you enjoyed The Girl on the Train, this will not disappoint.
Into the Water is relased May 2nd
Special thanks to Penguin Random House for the advanced proof copy.