Published 2017 by Riverhead Books
Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Literary Fiction
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
I think I’ll start by saying that this was my first Paula Hawkins novel. Unlike almost everyone else in the reading world, I never read The Girl on the Train. It was everywhere… so many people were saying, “if you loved Gone Girl, read this now!” Confession time: I hated Gone Girl, both the book and the movie. Not for any particular reason… I just really didn’t like it. I read it (and watched it) because of the hype and wasn’t impressed, and I didn’t want the same to be true for The Girl on the Train. So I never picked it up… even though I’ve had a copy, loaned to me by a family member, sitting on my shelf for over a year (sorry, Aunt Karen!).
When the announcement for Into the Water came out, people were understandably very excited. After Hawkins’ debut was such a sensation, how could people not be hyped for her second novel? (Although, can we talk about how HARD it must be to follow up such a successful first novel? I can’t even imagine. Author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the difficulty of writing a another novel after the success of Eat, Pray, Love in this TED Talk .) When I starting hearing about Into the Water, I thought the plot sounded extremely interesting. A small town where “troublesome women” have a way of dying in the river at an uncomfortable frequency… I was fascinated from the beginning. Also, that cover?? It’s perfection.
Once it was released, I started hearing a lot of negative reviews. Fans of The Girl on the Train seemed disappointed by Hawkins’ most recent effort. Still, amidst such reviews I was interested in the story. Book of the Month Club offered it for only $10 with your membership, so I bought it and decided to go ahead and read it. Without any expectations, without any prior knowledge of Hawkins as a writer and storyteller, I dove in.
And I loved it.
Seriously, I loved this book. It was sufficiently spooky and creepy… the history of this small English town, where woman after woman dies in “The Drowning Pool,” was both frightening and well-created. It never felt unrealistic to me, that people kept dying there. Hawkins crafted each tale (most of which were presented to us as part of Nel’s manuscript) with care. The effect was one of an atmospheric uneasiness, almost like a fog that hung over the novel in the best possible way.
I’ve heard a lot of criticisms that there were simply too many narrators to keep up with. While I will admit that yes, it was difficult to keep the large cast of characters straight, especially in the beginning, I found this to be part of the mystery, a challenge. I did a lot of flipping back and forth to make sure I had everyone straight. Lots of double checking to make sure I was thinking about the right character. For me this was half the fun. I loved trying to learn all the characters and their relationships towards one another, and how that might play in to the mysterious deaths we kept learning about. I loved that it required a little bit of effort from the reader. It only made the mystery that much better for me. I never knew who to trust; I doubted my own theories as often as I doubted the characters I was reading about. I had a lot of theories, of course, but I can honestly say that I did not know who did it until the very last page. I had suspicions at various times, but there were so many turns and tricks that I didn’t trust anyone by the end. And the ending was solid. I was satisfied, but also saddened and emotional about it. It was believable, despite the fact that I didn’t have it figured out from the beginning. It worked.
In addition to the spectacular web of mystery Hawkins created, I also loved the depths in which she delved into many of the characters. Yes, it was a lot to keep track of. But no one in this book was just there on the periphery. Not one of the narrators felt like a two-dimensional character. Every single one of them had a story, a fully realized life and history that explained why they acted the way they did. This is impressive in any novel, but especially in one with as many characters as this one.
I am still thinking about this book, days after finishing it. I still have questions. Not every loose end was tied into a neat little bow, and I am 100% okay with that. I loved this book. I might even be ready to pick up The Girl on the Train now.