Lady, there’s some­thing un­ap­petis­ing in this al­pha­bet

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

Hard­back,

339 pages, Si­mon & Schuster, €16.99

We meet Erin as she is dig­ging a grave. It’s bor­ing, and it takes for­ever, but what we re­ally want to know is: why? It makes for an in­trigu­ing open­ing, although one the rest of the book des­per­ately scram­bles and fails to live up to.

Some­thing in the Wa­ter is the de­but from Cather­ine Stead­man, the Bri­tish ac­tress for­merly of Down­ton Abbey .It cer­tainly seems writ­ten for the screen — and is set to be adapted into a film by Reese Witherspoon’s com­pany.

The cover bears the stamp of “Reese’s Book Club”, but fans of Big Lit­tle Lies should look else­where, as Some­thing in the Wa­ter is an in­sipid and deeply un­sat­is­fy­ing read, padded out with pages of dull, un­nec­es­sary de­tail.

The story fol­lows a so-called “per­fect cou­ple”: Mark, an in­vest­ment banker who loses his job just be­fore the wed­ding, and Erin, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker work­ing on her first solo project. It is Mark who funds much of their idyl­lic life­style, in­clud­ing their spa­cious Lon­don home and honey­moon to Bora Bora.

The cou­ple agrees to en­joy their is­land par­adise be­fore re­turn­ing home to fi­nan­cial ruin, but while scuba div­ing, they dis­cover a duf­fel bag filled with enough money to solve all their fi­nan­cial prob­lems. From there, the plot es­ca­lates wildly, as the pair start keep­ing se­crets from one an­other and mak­ing in­creas­ingly poor de­ci­sions.

Erin is our nar­ra­tor, and an in­tol­er­a­ble one at that — a wit­less fool who muses things like, “should we keep the bad peo­ple’s money?”. Mark, mean­while, re­mains a wisp-thin frag­ment, veer­ing be­tween con­de­scend­ing to his wife, sulk­ing at her or se­duc­ing her by treat­ing her like a child, call­ing her “honey” ev­ery sen­tence.

Be­fore we even find any­thing in the wa­ter, we are sub­jected to the film­ing of Erin’s doc­u­men­tary, which fol­lows the lives of three pris­on­ers as they pre­pare for re­lease. They each have vary­ingly flimsy con­nec­tions with the cen­tral plot, although Stead­man is happy to leave their sub­plots dan­gling. One is por­trayed as a vic­tim of an un­fair sys­tem, con­victed of as­sist­ing her mother’s sui­cide, while the other two are hor­ren­dous cliches. The worst of­fender is Eddie, a 65-year-old cock­ney gang­ster with a heart of gold, about whom Erin purrs, “I can tell him more than I’d ever tell Mark.”

With its light­ning-fast pac­ing and fre­netic plot twists, the novel feels bloated with Erin’s ba­nal asides (of a Chip­pen­dale desk, she ob­serves: “I guess you’re meant to no­tice these things. I guess that’s the point of them; that’s prob­a­bly why they’re cho­sen”) and ram­bling lec­tures. She goes to taste her wed­ding food, and we are treated to an itemised menu with prices; she boards a plane, and of­fers a ser­mon on the de­lights of first class; she watches YouTube videos on how to shoot a gun and gives a de­tailed re­cap. Her ev­ery­woman per­spec­tive is in­tended to be wry and re­lat­able, but her re­view of a niche dres­sage mag­a­zine (“It lost me slightly in the horse-feed section, but, over­all, in­ter­est­ing stuff. If not di­rectly for its con­tent, then def­i­nitely to won­der at the life­styles, and habits, of its av­er­age reader”) is more likely to put readers off.

Apart from Stead­man’s short, terse prose style, you can’t but be frus­trated

THRILLER Some­thing In The Wa­ter Cather­ine Stead­man

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