When I was seventeen, I saved my sister from drowning…
Danielle “Nel” Abbott is obsessed with the local area of her town of Beckford, nicknamed the Drowning Pool, where it’s said troublesome women come to die. She’s writing a book about the Drowning Pool and all the women who have mysteriously committed suicide there, but it’s making a lot of the townspeople angry. When Nel ends up being one of the Pool victims herself, her younger, estranged sister Jules (never Julia!) has to revisit all her long-repressed memories of Beckford to care for Nel’s cliched-moody daughter Lena and try and figure out whether Nel actually committed suicide—or is something more sinister at play?
Into the Water is Paula Hawkins second novel. After the success of The Girl on the Train, her first novel, which I kinda reviewed in a blog post on foreshadowing back in 2015, everyone—me especially—was waiting with bated breath for Hawkins’s second novel.
And guess what?
Into the Water was released on May 2nd, and I quickly requested it from the library, with a queue that now stretches over forty other excited folks. This week, I realised it was due back at the library—overdue now—and I hurriedly went ahead and read this 352 page behemoth (not really haha!) in just a couple of days, 100 pages at a time. It’s a quick read once you get stuck into it, and the plot promised to be interesting.
Once you get into the story, however, you realise it’s not just Jules‘s point of view. There’s also Lena; Erin the newbie police officer from London; Sean the head of the police force; Patrick, who is Sean’s bitter father; Helen, Sean’s dull schoolteacher wife; Nickie the local fraudster psychic; Josh, the younger brother of earlier Drowning Pool victim Katie; Louise, Katie’s distraught mother; Mark, a schoolteacher of both Katie and Lena; then there’s the chapters of Nel’s manuscript from the point of view of victims Libby (1679), Mary (1920), Lauren (1983) and Katie (2015). Holy crap, that’s 12 points of view throughout the whole novel. It’s really confusing in Part One, where you’re struggling to connect the dots between the characters and working out the links between each of them. Once you’ve finally worked out who’s who, you’ve probably missed out on any foreshadowing that could have been, and that’s when you get to Part Two, where things start getting interesting.
I felt like Hawkins put in a lot more effort folklore-wise than she did with TGOTT, but that’s where it ended. It was interesting learning about the previous women who’d died at the Drowning Pool, and their connection to the modern day. It does go on about “troublesome women” an awful lot. That didn’t bother me. I made a few assumptions on who the killer would be, based on character names, because it was clear that the modern women (Lauren, Katie and Nel) most likely didn’t kill themselves. Mark Henderson was eerily similar in character to Life is Strange‘s Mark Jefferson, so I assumed he would be up to no good. Patrick Townsend and his son Sean: I immediately made connections to the Bateman brothers in the Bret Easton Ellis universe, but thought, Nah, that’s too obvious! I also had suspicions about Louise Whittaker, and even Lena Abbott herself.
Until I came across this line, from Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan:
Oh no, I thought to myself. A thinly veiled GooberGrimp reference. And here I was thinking I could read a casual thriller novel to escape from the ridiculous world of people obsessed with politics on the internet. I kept going, internally joking with myself how the villain of this novel was going to end up being The Patriarchy itself, working to kill off strong, independent women. Then, this:
Misogynistic drownings? What on earth, DS Morgan? Just because women are being killed, doesn’t immediately make it a misogynistic hate crime. But I had my motive for the killer. At this point, I knew 100% the killer was going to be a man, because of course. I narrowed it down at this point to:
- Mark Henderson: If he’s anything like his Life is Strange counterpart, he’s clearly up to no good. Possible choice.
- Sean Townsend: Unless this book is trying to do a Heavy Rain on us, then I doubt it. Unless this is a “the good guy is not really so good after all” like The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Unlikely so far.
- Josh Whittaker: He’s technically not a man, but ~12 is close enough for…murder. But he has an alibi, as announced near the beginning.
- Robbie Cannon: Considering his circumstances and Totally Obvious Popular Creepy Rapist Guy persona (trope), it’s highly likely. Could be.
- Patrick Townsend: He’s the obvious candidate. He’s assholish and unreachable from his very first chapter. Also, his name is Patrick [Bateman]; his son’s name is Sean [Bateman, Patrick’s brother]. Too obvious, but most likely candidate.
Despite the hiccups along the way, I found the plot intriguing enough that I really did want to know what happened. The characters connect with each other really well, and despite a few stereotypes (Lena is the moody schoolgirl, Patrick is obviously the stereotypical abusive dad, Helen implied to be his victim, Sean the do-gooder local cop, Erin the ne’er do well cop threatening to shake up a small town), I found they were written rather well. Much like with TGOTT, the characters weren’t likeable, even the ones Hawkins meant to be. Even when Lena redeems herself to Jules, Hawkins makes her appear the hero, but she’s so unlikeable from her first appearance insulting Jules, it was really hard for me to agree with it. When Jules discovers The Big Truth behind Nel’s big saying (Wasn’t there some part of you that liked it?), she reacts in a way to me that is really ridiculous. This is what makes Into the Water so readable. Unlikeable characters, different personalities, and not everyone is exactly the same: they all have problems, just like IRL people.
Reader Beware: Spoilers May Be Ahead
My issue with this book was the Big Revelation, which was really not such a big revelation because Hawkins kept telling you over and over through most of the book that Totally Not Obvious killer is the killer, and when it’s realised that he’s covering up for someone, it’s not so shocking. The woman who you’re starting to think may have killed Nel is revealed to be an innocent victim, and the Totally Not Obvious Killer says a bunch of stuff that feels like a complete strawman caricature of a misogynist,
man and I was thinking at this point how over-the-top it was about him being a bad person. Yeah, we know he’s bad. He drowned a tabby cat earlier in this book. He was thinking dodgy things about women he knows chapters ago. This is something we call a red herring.
But Erin Morgan, the Beckford PD’s resident Woman is Always Right (an outdated sexist trope), predicts this in the chapter before the big reveal:
Sigh. She minimises his abuse—claiming he’s purposely covering up the truth, and it should be so obvious to everyone else. Clearly DS Morgan has never known an abusive person (both physical and emotional for once, it seems, in the case of this book), and abusive people are well known to manipulate the feelings of their victims. He’d been protecting his father all his life, after all. The dude damn repressed what happened! He can’t be to blame for what happened as a kid, something he couldn’t control. Sure, if you know what he did now, blame him for that, but BLGBRBG. I’ve gotten too ahead of myself now.
At least the other subplot—which is originally believed to be connected to Nel’s “suicide”—involving Mark Jefferhenderson, Lena Abbott and Katie Whittaker—is handled better, except for its abrupt ending. Did Mr. Jefferhenderson kill himself, or did Lena? It’s likely the latter. If so, is she justified? Is she really protecting her BFF’s legacy, or is she just mimicking her mother’s distrust of men? Did Katie truly love Jefferhenderson or was Lena actually correct in the end? Next time on Rhetorical Questions…
Paula Hawkins’s Into the Water is an interesting, quick read with an array of different characters that you’ll take a while to get used to and pull together their interweaving threads. If you know anything about Life is Strange, the Bateman brothers in Bret Easton Ellis’s assorted books and movies, and the Killer is Right in Front of You trope, you’ll already know who the killer is. Otherwise, you’ll be left guessing right until the very last chapter. Literally. The last chapter. It’s not stated who killed Nel until right near the end of the final chapter, which is written from the killer’s point of view. I’ve warned you, people who cheat by reading the last page. The feminist themes and imagery are far too obvious, and could have be toned down while still sending the same message. All the men are horrible monsters to some degree, even if they’re absolved of any wrongdoing. The women, regardless of what horrifying acts they did, are always at the mercy, and therefore victims, of men. For a novel with such feminist themes, it really is anti-feminist in a lot of ways.