Since I had the good fortunate to discover The Girl on the Train before its surge of popularity this side of the pond, & loved it, I’ve felt a proprietary interest in Paula Hawkins. Even before my copy of Into the Water arrived, I was eager to find out how it would be received & @ this point reception seems mixed. If I can divide readers into categories they seem to be: those who liked TGOTT and were disappointed; those who disliked TGOTT & found this one better; & I think a minority to which I have the honour to belong who loved both, but were delighted to enjoy each for its differences. What made me love TGOTT was the sympathetic treatment of the principal character Rachel – with whom I found it easy to identify – & varied but distinctive personalities of the other two narrators. All three came through nicely on audio. Granted, the plot wasn’t particularly original, but there was enough ambiguity to keep me going, especially as I cared enough about Megan and Rachel to want to know what happened to the former & what would happen to the latter.
This one is quite different. Most of the narrators varied from unattractive to repulsive. The only two I unreservedly liked were Erin the police officer and Lena the teenager (I can imagine Emily Blunt @ the age she played Tamsin as Lena), who was the only one I really admired, both for character & physical courage. The principal male characters were weak and contemptible: two policemen, Sean & Patrick (father & son) & Mark, a schoolmaster. The other women narrators: Nickie, literally an old witch; Jules, sister of Nel the apparent suicide; Lousie, mother of Katie, Lenia’s BF & another apparent suicide; & Helen, headmistress & wife of Sean, are all quite unpleasant. But as a reader who finds ‘I didn’t like the characters’ no basis of an intelligent bad review, I didn’t think their being unpleasant meant they didn’t hold my interest, especially Jules – who began to show signs of scrubbing up well – & Nickie, whose paranormal abilities gave the story a depth of feeling & historical connexion, both recent & ancient.
I loved Lena for her unswerving loyalty to her BF Katie, whose own courage in secret keeping awed me as well. Many readers will find their constancy misplaced, but that is the beauty of tragedy: keeping your commitments however unworthy the objects and unfortunate the consequences. (Ask Antigone.) That Paula Hawkins went so against type in her characterisations was pleasingly original as well. Usually when a character has a senior retired police officer for a parent, he’s model of old-fashioned integrity & an inspiration, who passes those qualities on to his offspring. Not here.
It’s not a perfect book. The backstory about witch-dunking never really worked for me, nor did the setting quite get into focus, altho’ that may be my fault. I’d imagine the town of Beckford was based on Hexham: I’d so like to revisit Northumberland (& for God’s-sake – if this one is made into a film, don’t let Hollywood ruin the setting like they did with TGOTT!). Also, it was sometimes hard to discern the main plot: was it what happened to Nel, or to Katie, or even events in 1983 or 1922 or the 17th century. Also I didn’t really believe the cause of estrangement between Jules & Nel. Misunderstanding like that occur, but they usually get sorted out, or we’d all hate each other forever. But it was worth the initial confusion in clarifying the various narrators & ambiguities & gratifying that Paula Hawkins could follow up her first thriller with something so original & engaging as Into the Water.