Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins ★★★

“The water, the water, the water – no way to get away from it in this town.”

Into the Water was a chilling, and well-written thriller! I have never really sought out thrillers or mystery/crime novels as my go-to reads, but Paula Hawkins has definitely made me a fan. There is something very real and visceral about the way that she writes, that just draws me the heck in! This book follows the story of Jules, who finds out in the first couple pages that her sister, Nel, has died. Not only did she die, but Jules is told that she has committed suicide in the Drowning Pool, a significant place from their childhood that they have not been able to forget. Upon hearing this news, Jules is forced to return to her family’s vacation home in Beckford, take in Nel’s wayward daughter, and confront  memories from her past that she’d rather leave to rot at the bottom of the river. Spoilers below!

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Right away, the reader is confronted with some of the book’s central themes and ideas: concepts of memory, the sins of women, the truly creepy nature of how water can look calm on the surface, but hide nasty things below. Much like the people living near it… The book actually opens to a scene where an accused witch is being “swam” – the trial where the accused is tied up and dunked into the water to see if they sink or swim. Of course, if they swim, they are a witch and if they drown, well, they are human, but also kind of…dead. This preface sets the tone of the entire novel and I liked the history of the witches added to the story. It gave it a depth and richness. The book is creepy, suspenseful, a little detached, and it highlights hidden cruelty and violence, especially against “troublesome women.”

From there, the narrative splits into about 10 different perspectives, giving the reader a glimpse of all of the different players in this shady little town. Spliced between the narratives are also Nel’s written accounts of all of the women who have died in the Beckford River Drowning Pool. Since I had already read Hawkins’ other novel, The Girl on the Train, I expected this multiple point of view writing style. So, I was not jarred by it or confused by all of the “scene changes.” But, there were a lot! Perhaps this is a common technique when writing thrillers, because it keeps the reader at a distance and effectively evades a revealing plotline. So, in that regard, that part was really well done! I did feel a lack of empathy for the characters, though, maybe because of that distance between reader and character. We get just brief snippets of these character’s thoughts at a time, so their full stories unravel slowly over the whole novel. On top of that, is this theme that memory is an unreliable thing. What one remembers, or thinks they remember, is not always true. Because of all this, I would say the ending was kept secret for most of the novel. There was a lot of back and forth, twists and turns that kept me second-guessing who I thought was guilty until the last few chapters. ALL of the characters were so sketchy, though, that I really would not have been surprised about any one of them being the killer.

The characters themselves were all unique and interesting, if majorly unlikable. Hawkins did a great job of giving each character a distinct voice for the most part, although a few kind of ran into each other towards the end. I would say that my favorite character to read was Jules. Honestly, her inner struggle against what happened to her as a child and her relationship with Nel was more interesting to me than the central mystery of the deaths. Also, Jules seemed like the only decent person in the entire damn book. Lena, the daughter/niece, became better in the end and I did like how her relationship with Jules concluded. I also liked Detective Morgan, because she was the only character who actually made logical sense the entire book. All of the other law enforcement officers seemed wholly incompetent, which I guess, in the end was not surprising (given how it turned out). Patrick Townsend was all-around horrible. After he killed that cat, I wanted him to get crucified, even if I had no idea if he was the true killer or not at that point. Mark and Sean were super creepy the whole time, and I found Louise and Katie (and early Lena) to be quite annoying. Nickie Sage was pretty neat and nuts-o, which made for a good character.

Overall, the book was good and I was interested enough in the character’s, and the town’s, secrets to keep reading. However, it was not quite as suspenseful or “thrilling” as I expected. I also did not really like the almost gratuitous nature of the book. I am not sure if this was intentional, because of all the town secrets, but having murder, rape, infidelity, cancer, obese child, pedophilia, suicide, witch trials, domestic abuse, a whole even-a-“good man”-can-be-bad lecture, CAT DROWNING, and everything else, just seemed like a bit much. Regardless, Hawkins is clearly a talented thriller author and has a real knack for capturing the essence of a feeling. Her writing is quite relatable, even when the subject matter is dark or hard to face, which is admirable. it is raw, honest, and sometimes painfully easy to connect with. I look forward to her next book!

Some additional points:

  • The question that Hawkins presents regarding tragedy, and writing about true events was interesting. It makes you consider, is it arrogant and callous to write about someone else’s personal tragedy? Or is the writer trying to honor the victim and tell their story?
  • I loved the writing in many parts of the book, but most of all in Jules’ chapters. The way she refers to Nel as “you” and continues to talk to her was really effective.
  • Loved the use of the water motif and how it related to the town members. “But appearances are deceptive, and this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath…”
  • What did happen to Mark? Did Lena kill him? There was blood on the rusty nail.
  • There was a definite undertone to the novel that strove to overturn all of these tragic tales of silenced voices and wronged women. I really liked that and was rooting for their voices to be heard, but parts of it also seemed to be selective in which “kind” of woman should be celebrated. Like how Jules was noticed and praised for being skinny now and how it almost seemed like woman who had no morals or were “wild” were glorified. I am not sure how to explain it, but parts of that theme rubbed me the wrong way.
  • Seriously, what is with Hawkins having to write everyone into an affair? We get it, people are shitty, but must it be a huge part of every plotline? And don’t even try to create any kind of sympathy for the dickholes in the affair either, which she was hinting at, cause that’s just gross.
  • Jules’ retelling and recollection of her rape was sad and extremely well done. To hear her reasons for not telling anyone and rationalizing why her rapist would not have thought it was wrong – very relevant.
  • Really well structured. All of the hints and clues building on one another throughout the story was very well done.

What did you think, Cake?

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Honestly, why wouldn’t you just stay away from a haunted river called the Drowning Pool?

Get your copy here!

-Chelsi

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins ★★★

  1. that’s a good point about Hawkins making re: writing about people’s real life tragedies, is it inappropriate, etc. I suppose she doesn’t really answer the question in the book, but I like how it was mentioned and ruminated on throughout the story…

    Liked by 1 person

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