When I first got my hands on The Girl on the Train when it came out in 2015, I read it in one sitting, devouring each page until its startling conclusion left me breathless and believing I'd never read anything as good. That is, until I read Into the Water, which is actually better than its predecessor in unexpected and surprising ways. Captivating, smart, and ambitious, Paula Hawkins's sophomore psychological thriller is one you won't be able to stop thinking about.
The gripping story is set in a small town in England that's home to the Beckford Drowning Pool, a notorious "place to get rid of troublesome women." Into The Water traces back over 300 years of local history that includes the murders, suicides, and suspicious deaths of several local girls. Beginning in 1679, when the first woman was forced into the water under suspicion of witchcraft, and lurching forward into the present day, the central story of Hawkins's highly anticipated novel follows the life and mysterious "suicide" of Danielle "Nel" Abbott, a talented but obsessive journalist and photographer who dedicated her life to two things: her work and her daughter. At the time of her death, Nel was documenting the lives and deaths of the women who went into the Drowning Pool, including that of her daughter's best friend.
When her estranged sister, Jules, is called home to make arrangements and care for Nel's orphaned daughter, Lena, she isn't convinced as easily as the rest of Beckford that the death was a suicide. She grew up in Beckford, knows its waters, and knows that something more sinister is at work. As she digs through Nel's research and unfinished manuscript to piece together the mystery of her death, Jules begins to realize that she and her sister aren't the only ones in town with dark secrets they'd rather leave at the bottom of the river.
While it's not the perfect novel — it does, at times, rely on some obvious plot devices, includes a few cheap narrative tricks, and requires several moments of suspended belief — Into the Water is a fresh take on a story that continues to grow in popularity: the destruction of women's lives at the hands of their communities.
1The unique narration keeps you guessing.
Forget one unreliable narrator, because in Into the Water, Paula Hawkins has created 10. Told from the perspective of past and present day Jules, the first person narration of two police detectives, the third person narration of members of the Beckford community, the pages of Nel's unfinished manuscript, and more, this complicated book is a puzzle you must put together one chapter, one character, at the time.
The only problem? Sometimes the pieces don't always fit, but figuring out why is half the fun. Some will love this, others will find it jarring, but no matter which side of the fence you fall on, it's hard to deny the ambition behind this narration.
2The secrets are juicier — and more plentiful.
Without spoiling the plot, I will say this about Into the Water: just when you think you've uncovered the truth, you realize you've only begun to scratch the surface. In a town like Hawkins's fictional Beckford, everyone has secrets, and the deeper you go in search of them, the more likely you are to get lost in the dark.
A gripping novel that leaves you guessing chapter after chapter, narrator after narrator, this unique thriller will bend your mind, suspend your assumptions, and make you question everything you thought you knew about the genre.
3There's the perfect touch of the paranormal.
Thanks to its unreliable narration, unexpected twists, and dark turns, The Girl on the Train grabbed you from page one and made you hold on until the very last word. It had everything a good thriller needs to satisfy you, but Into the Water had a touch of something else that was like adding a cherry to an already perfect sundae: the paranormal.
Featuring a grieving sister who thinks she hears voices, an old woman who talks to the dead, and more than one moment of mysticism, these departures from the traditional psychological thriller didn't distract or take away from the story, but rather add a rich and magical layer that was just thick enough to transform the story into something unique and otherwordly, without taking it out of the real world.
4It's a new chapter in dark feminist fiction.
Like her first thriller, Paula Hawkins doesn't shy away from the grim, gritty subject of women's abuse. Into the Water dives even deeper into the feminist issues central in The Girl on the Train, highlighting not only the part that men play in the violent destruction of women's lives, but the hand that other women have in it, too.
From the witch trials that pushed the first "troublesome woman" into the Drowning Pool, to the murderous wife who walked herself into the water, to the talented photographer whose motivation — or, as some believe, cause — for taking the plunge is still unknown, Hawkins uses Beckford and its community to put misogyny, abuse, sexual assault, and violence against women under a microscope for readers to see. The best part? She creates one hell of a thriller, while she's at it.
In Into the Water, the suspected villains aren't the only ones on trial. Our social constructs and societal norms are laid out bare for judgement, and the readers are left to be the judge, jury, and executioner of it all.