Friday May 12, 2017

Paula Hawkins' Into The Water: Should you read it?

(Penguin Random House Canada)

Listen 7:39

Paula Hawkins' debut novel was a phenomenon by any standard. It sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and was made into a blockbuster Hollywood film starring Emily Blunt. The stakes for her follow-up were set rather high.

Two years later, Hawkins is back with another entry in the grip-lit oeuvre. It's sure to sell millions but as Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne tells host Brent Bambury, where The Girl On The Train worked, Into The Water sinks under its own weight.

"I had a really complicated relationship with this book," Toyne says. "There are more than a dozen narrators in this novel and it makes it very confusing."
 

About the book

The opening pages of Into The Water detail the drowning of a young woman. This sets up two of the book's main themes: water and death.

The number one rule with a psychological thriller is that it has to be thrilling - Becky Toyne, Day 6 books columnist

The story takes place in a small English mill town. For centuries, women have died in the river that passes through it. In fact, there's a bend in the river locally referred to as the drowning pool because of the number of bodies that have been found there.

Into The Water

Paula Hawkins' Into The Water was released May 2. (Penguin Random House Canada)

"Over the years, many women have died in the drowning pool," says Toyne.  "That includes women who were dunked there during the witch trials to see if they floated." 

More recently, a single mother named Nel Abbott turns up dead at the bottom of the river. Earlier in the summer, the teenage friend of her daughter met the same fate.

The townspeople seem to accept that the girl died by suicide, but there is more mystery around Nel's death.

"The story is really about many different people in the town, who all have a connection to Nel Abbott, and what actually happened to her," Toyne says.

That's where the problems start. According to Toyne, there are too many people and too many connections.
 

But should I read it?

"The number one rule with a psychological thriller is that it has to be thrilling," she says. "That was a real problem with this book."

As she did with The Girl On The Train, Hawkins uses multiple unreliable narrators to tell the story. But with so many voices to wade through — Toyne counted 13 in all — the narrative gets knotty and slow.

"Because every chapter of the book is a different person, some third person and some first person, you're really working hard to figure out what's going on. It prevents it from being thrilling from the get-go," she says.

"I found in the first 150 pages or so, I had to keep turning the pages back to say 'who is this person? Have we met this person before and what is going on?'"

  
The confluence of narratives

Toyne says Into The Water gained momentum when she sorted out all the voices and their respective back stories and fans of The Girl On The Train will find similar things to enjoy here.



"The same kinds of themes are present here too. It's predominantly female voices," she says. "It's all about these disappeared women and themes of consent and domestic violence swirl around in the book, to use water imagery."
 

Unfair expectations

With only two titles to her name and of the same genre — the first being a smash success — it's hard to avoid comparison. But Toyne says that's not totally fair.

"We've seen this with other writers who come out of nowhere and have this huge, runaway success, she says.

Books by Paula Hawkins

(Penguin Random House Canada)

"On one hand, people just want The Girl On The Train again and they want all those boxes checked. But on the other hand, if you do just write The Girl On The Train again, people will say 'well, that was just rubbish. You're just a one-trick pony.'"

Toyne says you're damned if you do and damned if you don't when you've been that successful. She also says it's a good problem to have.
 

Day 6 has two copies of  Paula Hawkins' new novel to give away. To enter our random draw, send an e-mail to day6@cbc.ca with Into The Water in the subject line. Be sure to include your mailing address. We'll pick two winners at random before next week's show.