I absolutely loved Girl on the Train, and read it while I was still living in Chicago (sadly, on the bus, not on the train…which would’ve been way cooler). I loved the film adaptation that came out last year, and I was itching with the rest of the world to pick up Hawkins’s newest book, Into the Water.
Initially, I was discouraged by the Janet Maslin’s review in the New York Times. Then I decided that reviews should never deter a stubborn, motivated reader, so I got started. I’m so glad I did.
The book starts with the death of Nel Abbott, a less-than-well-liked writer/photographer who was found at the bottom of the very river she was writing a book about, lovingly called Drowning Pool. Not too long ago prior, Nel’s daughter, Lena’s, close friend, Katie, died in that same river. The town has a Salem-esque feel, with a history of women dying in Drowning Pool as a result of England-based witch hunts (which I had no idea was co-existing during our own Salem Witch Trials…silly me). From there, the Pool racks up a long list of casualties, causes for which are both speculative and scandalous in nature.
Nel’s sister, Jules, returns to her hometown, forced to come to terms with both a troubled childhood and a conflict-heavy relationship with her now-deceased sister. What ensues is an engaging (albeit sometimes confusing) read. Here are some of my takeaways after finishing:
- This book reminded me of both Twin Peaks and Broadchurch, with murder investigations infiltrating the facade of small towns, uncovering dark family secrets and eccentric characters.
- In defense of multiple point-of-view-books, I think a multiple P.O.V. narrative can be like indulging in a large ice cream sundae. It takes longer to consume, you might get a headache at the end, but it’s totally worth it. Think of it as a kitchen-sink sundae vs. regular hot fudge- both have their merits.
- One of the reasons that books like Girl on the Train and Gone Girl did so well is that readers fell in love with the unreliable narrators. I love this, too- it adds another layer of mystery to the mystery, and usually creates a page-turner. I thought Hawkins added a nice touch to this literary device by using human memory as the cause for unreliability. We all seem to think that hindsight is 20/20, even when it truly isn’t. Our brains fill in gaps, and our memories are heavily influenced by emotion.
- There’s a feminist undertone. The dedication is “For all the troublemakers,” and linking historical mistreatment of women who were drowned as “witches” gives the most recent stories from the town some context. Women who are nonconformists are cast aside, or not believed. Perhaps this, in and of itself, should give us pause.
- FYI: Trigger warning: sexual assault
Overall, if you have the patience for reading multiple narrators, I highly recommend giving this a try. It’s complex, but the story is a page-turner, and I loved seeing how the characters changed as the mystery of Nel’s death unfolded.
Rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 on Goodreads)