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FICTION New thriller by Girl on the Train author is dark, suspenseful tale set in British riverside town
It’s hard to imagine more fevered anticipation around a book than Paula Hawkins’s new novel, “Into the Water.” After all, the British author’s crime fiction debut “The Girl on the Train” was a bona fide cultural event.
The runaway bestseller catapulted the former personal finance journalist to stardom, selling a staggering 19 million copies in 50 countries, inspiring a blockbuster film starring Emily Blunt and, along with Gillian Flynn’s similarly popular “Gone Girl,” helping birth a new genre, “grip lit.”
Now every aspiring author and their mother is busy penning psychological thrillers, complete with unreliable narrators, complex female characters, wild plot twists and generous helpings of suspense.
The question, of course, is whether Hawkins herself will be able to repeat the enormous success of “The Girl on the Train.” And the answer is: most likely.
“Into the Water” is, first and foremost, a highly addictive read. The book is set in Beckford, a small, eerie British town obsessed with its dark past. When a single mother, Nel Abbott, is found dead in the river, her estranged sister Jules arrives to care for Nel’s teenage daughter Lena.
As Jules learns more about her sister’s apparent suicide in the town’s Drowning Pool — and the many mysterious deaths that preceded it, including Lena’s best friend — she’s pulled further and further into a shadowy world where tragedy lurks, memory is unstable and things are never as they seem.
The novel, it must be said, contains all the elements that made “The Girl on the Train” famous in the first place. The narrative transfixes; its short chapters and multiple perspectives pull the reader in immediately, and refuse to let go until the very last page is turned. “Into the Water” is well-written, wellstructured and well-crafted.
It delivers, too, on dark mood, twisted emotion — and the Hitchcock-levels of paranoia and dread that once caused Stephen King to tweet that “The Girl on the Train” had kept him up most of the night.
What’s more, the book does a terrific job of exploring broader themes, from the legacy of misogyny to the lasting impact of trauma. Hawkins is a writer who thinks deeply about the world and women’s place in it.
All told, “In the Water” may even be a better book than “The Girl on the Train.”
Yet one can’t escape the feeling that there’s something missing here — that je ne sais quoi that distinguishes a perfectly solid page-turner from a major cultural moment. “Into the Water” doesn’t quite haunt the way its predecessor did.
Jules is an interesting character, to be sure — an emotionally shut down bulimic who’s unable to move past devastating events in her youth. Significantly, too, she taps into a current trend: the explosive rise of single women in the Western world.
In the United States right now, unmarried women outnumber their married peers for the first time in history. Curiosity about this state of affairs abounds in media and pop culture, and naturally makes for rich literary fodder.
But here’s the thing: Jules is not as instantly compelling as Rachel, the depressed alcoholic divorcee from “The Girl on the Train.”
Something about Rachel — whether it was her agonized infertility, her disillusionment with traditional adult life or her listless unemployment — hit a massive nerve. Rachel tapped into the zeitgeist in a near-magical way.
This form of literary alchemy is difficult to understand, as Hawkins herself has pointed out, let alone recreate.
None of this is to say that “Into the Water” won’t be a hit, because it likely will. Readers will seek it out.
And Hawkins? Well, she’s a career author, a workhorse who stacks pages, day in and day out, irrespective of fame and fortune. (She published several chick lit novels under the pseudonym Amy Silver, and a personal finance tome, before turning her hand to crime fiction.)
So she will tour for “Into the Water,” and give interviews, and sign books for fans. And then she can get back to doing what she does best: writing. With less hype and under decidedly less pressure.
Toronto Star Tara Henley is a writer and radio producer.
Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins: dark mood, twisted emotion