Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
The Girl on the Train was a phenomenon. Paula Hawkins’ follow up novel, Into the Water, was hotly anticipated. Given the chance to get my hands on a copy, I jumped all over it.
But it’s difficult to live up to that kind of hype, for a different book to stand on its own merits when compared to the achievements of its juggernaut of an older sibling.
I could not finish with Into the Water fast enough.
Sadly, I don’t mean that as a compliment. This book fatigued me.
Nel Abbot, single mother of a teenage daughter, has been found dead in the water at the bottom of her garden. The river that runs through the little town she lived in has claimed the lives of a number of women for years. Two months earlier, a 15 year old girl had drowned herself in the water. Nel herself had been fascinated by the water, the stories of the “troublesome” women that found their end in its depths, and had been working on a book telling their stories.
What happened is told, piece by painstaking piece by a variety of residents in the small English town including: Nel’s estranged sister, angry at her over something that happened years and years ago; Nel’s daughter, who has been keeping all kinds of secrets from everyone; the school’s headmistress, married to the police chief, who also has secrets from his past; a teacher, who has to hide how much he misses Kate, the girl who drowned herself before Nel died.
It’s a lot.
Hawkins tries to make the point that the world is cruel to women, that historically water had been used to purify those women accused of witchcraft, that perhaps this is something that is still going on. There are any number of sinister characters in the book that could be capable of sending women to watery deaths. Hawkins isn’t content to populate the book with red herrings, or subject readers to so many first person narratives, she also has to weave a mystical element to the game.
Into the Water wasn’t a difficult read, or a long one, and yet the time I spent with it felt like I was treading water fully clothed and I was losing the battle.
I so appreciate the point that Hawkins was trying to make because the world is so obviously cruel, especially to women. But this book and it’s similarity to The Girl on the Train (memory loss, men’s power over women, unlikeable narrators) without the well-paced plot and tense atmosphere just didn’t work for me.