From the bestselling author of The Girl on the Train (2015) comes a new epic. Released to the world on May 2, 2017, comes Into the Water. I found this release to be quite different to Paula Hawkins’ astonishing debut; however, no less compelling and addictive. Where Girl is fast-paced, thriller a minute, Into the Water is much more subtle and nuanced, delving into even more complex issues before ultimately reaching its conclusion.
Set in the small, creepy town of Beckford, the book largely revolved around what locals have morbidly nicknamed “The Drowning Pool”. Described as both a place where suicides have occurred for many, many years, but also notably by one character as a place where “troublesome women” come to die. The book begins with yet another woman found dead in the Drowning Pool – and this time it is Nel Abbott, a single mother and whose entire life had held something of a perverse attraction to the pool.
Nel Abbott’s death sets off a chain of events which will be crucial to the plot of this book. Most importantly, it sees Nel’s younger sister, Jules, return to Beckford – a place she swore she’d never return after a childhood fraught with painful memories. Jules finds herself in charge of caring for Nel’s teenage daughter, Lena, an extreme likeness for Nel and who is apprehensive (to put it mildly) of Jules’ return. But Lena has ghosts of her own from years gone by as a result of the Drowning Pool.
During her life, Nel had become a maligned figure of Beckford due to her fascination with the Drowning Pool. She had decided to pen a book all about the victims, to the chagrin of the town. Many of the deaths were still incredibly fresh and raw – including the death of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Katie Whittaker, Lena’s best friend, and a girl who seemingly had everything to live for. Nel’s book was going to portray her versions of events, which did not sit well with the majority of the town. To find herself the victim of the Drowning Pool seems an odd way for Nel to have gone, in spite of this lifetime fascination – which leads many to believe that Nel was pushed rather than fell of her own volition into the water.
This book is home to many eclectic and colourful characters, all of whom have a major part to play in the playing out of the action. There’s local psychic and supposed “crazy lady” Nicki, who was not a little bit surprised when she heard how Nel had died – but she did feel guilty. There’s Nel’s childhood boyfriend Robbie, a typical lothario who has roots to the past even deeper than even he realises. And then, there is the Townsend family.
The Townsends are a local institution of Beckford, a family whose honour in the line of police duty stems from patriarch Patrick. But even they are not immune from the history of the Drowning Pool. Many years prior to the events of this novel, their story became famous. One of the women who met her untimely end in the Pool was Lauren Townsend, Patrick’s wife. Supposedly, she jumped in full view of her son, Sean, when he was just an infant who had sleepily followed his mother into the night. The story had certainly been mythicised as the years went by, but it was sure to play a major role in Nel’s manuscript.
Into the Water is in part a classic detective fiction novel, as readers and characters in turn desperately try to piece together shreds of evidence to figure out just what happened to our victim. There are red herrings galore, as just about every character has motives – which makes it an extremely sinister yet juice read. It is in equal measure a psychological thriller, as we attempt to understand why these women do what they have done when they make their way to the Pool. And we also struggle to comprehend and hope that we never have to fully understand how those left behind cope with the massive absences that these mothers, daughters, sisters and friends leave behind.
It is clear that Hawkins has a genuine understanding of the human condition as well as the fraught nature of relationships. This is clear with the sophistication that she has brought to this wonderful novel. There can be no doubt that this novel will have its many critics, as it is shamelessly compared and contrasted to its famous and bestselling predecessor. But it is a gem in its own right, one which can be enjoyed by many different kinds of audiences. It is nuanced, slow-burning (without ever just being slow!) and utterly compelling right up until the final words are spoken.