Into the Water
Date Published02 May 2017
Price£ 20.00

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins

Nel Abbot has gone where all the troublesome women have, for hundreds of years – into the water. But what drove her and a teenage girl to take their lives in a place where witches were drowned?


Jules Abbot is relieved when the police arrive. It is not someone she cares about who has died. It is her sister, Nel, an author, who she has hardly spoken to in years. But anger swamps relief when she learns Nel took her life in the Drowning Pool, a place of bitter memories and multiple deaths.

Lena is still reeling with the shock of Kate, her best friend’s suicide, and now her mother has taken her life in the same way. She has no one left, except her freaky aunt Jules, who Lena thinks is to blame for her mother ending it all.

But what drove a woman and a teenage girl to take their lives in a place where witches were drowned?

Although I wasn’t The Girl on the Train’s biggest fan, mostly from my antipathy towards the characters, I applauded Hawkins’ writing style, pacing and, believe it or not, guts for making her characters so odious. The very aspect I disliked the most made the story fresh and reasonably courageous.

One of my overriding thoughts on reading Into the Water is that Hawkins has probably read too many negative critiques about her first book. Instead of sticking to her guns and forté, she has pared back on the ugly factor. Unfortunately, the resulting failure is undeveloped, one-dimensional characters who are still ugly, and for whom I couldn’t raise a single emotion.

Perhaps I am in the minority. Perhaps my brain is not as sharp as it used to be. But one of the (many) reasons I yawn at the idea of football is because I can’t be bothered to work out who is who, watching two teams of 11 indistinguishable players running around randomly after a bit of leather. Unfortunately, Into the Water has the same number of character points of view as a football team, literally (and the subs if you take the ‘historical voices’ into account), all indistinguishable with their generic voices, all running around randomly doing their own thing. It’s confusing and disjointed.

Normally I like regular changes in the point of view; it drives the story forward. However, 11 points of view is nothing short of excessive, and throws treacle on the pacing. Moreover, there is no time to get to know even one of the characters. I couldn’t begin to guess who the protagonist is. And there are more antagonists than even Inspector Barnaby could get his head round. These mediocre perspectives of a hoard of characters are a jumbled mess. That said, there was no surprise in the whodunit aspect.

The ‘chapters’ from Nel’s unpublished book are, on the whole, irrelevant, as are half the subplots. The sheer number of deaths in the Drowning Pool desensitise the reader, and the plethora of infidelities and ‘broken people’ do nothing to improve the story. These factors tested my suspension of disbelief throughout. The ending is hurried, twist-free, anticlimactic and a bit ‘all lived happily ever after’.

Hawkins, nonetheless, has an indisputable skill in bringing her backdrop to life. Although I didn’t particularly sense the village’s geographical position, the village, the river, and the Drowning Pool come across as three-dimensional and atmospheric.

Undoubtedly readers will compare this book with The Girl on the Train. That’s a shame, because there are no similarities, and readers who open this book expecting the voice and suspense of Hawkins’ first novel are in for a disappointment. For readers who enjoy cosy crime, this will satisfy, if they can keep up with the playlist. I await the next Hawkins book to decide whether The Girl on the Train was a one-hit wonder, or if Into the Water is a blip.

Reviewed 17 February 2018 by Kati Barr-Taylor

Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.