Just when you thought it was safe ...

FIC­TION New thriller by Girl on the Train au­thor is dark, sus­pense­ful tale set in Bri­tish river­side town

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - TARA HENLEY

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

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