“We tell our stories differently, don’t we, you and I?”
Back in school, for a while – before Harry Potter took over – we were all hooked on to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series. There was one book in particular that was more popular than the rest – Fear Street Super Chiller Goodnight Kiss 2. The reason being the big reveal happened on the very last page. Those who had read it tricked those who didn’t into reading the last page before finishing the book, thereby spoiling it.
I never read Goodnight Kiss 2 even though it has been on my TBR for eighteen years or so. The only reason it’s still on my TBR is cos I’m still curious to find out what’s on that last page. I don’t even know the what the story is about!
And with that we come to Paula Hawkins’ latest, Into The Water, whose big reveal also happens on the very last page. Rather underwhelmingly. Into the Water is one of those books that meanders so far away from the point that not only do you get impatient, but also bored. It’s an odd mix of emotions, one directly contradicting the other.
In the beginning, we are told that Nel Abbott is dead. It is hinted that it was a murder. The characters, of course, insist it was a suicide, especially Nel’s daughter Lena. Nel’s body was found one morning in the Drowning Pool, where several “troublesome” women have died before her, including Lena’s best friend Katie. There is this not so subtle undercurrent of “These were all murders”. Woven into this mesh of POVs (oh so many POVs! Did an editor even see this?) are detectives Sean Townsend (whose mom died in the same pool) and Erin Morgan (who lives in a house which used to be occupied by Sean’s mom) (seriously, what is up with this unimaginatively titled pool!)
We are, as readers, directed to care about all the murdered women. We can’t. Or at least (this being my review) I couldn’t. I wanted to know about Nel – not these old murders that the characters were insisting on digging up. I didn’t know these other dead characters, why would I care if they’re dead? I couldn’t care much for Nel either, and don’t even get me started on how irritating her sister Jules (“not Julia”) was. The subplot of rape that caused the sisters to grow apart was sketched so poorly that it made me angry – it felt like it was forced into the narrative.
I know a lot of what I’m saying sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. Or I don’t want to, but that’s mostly cos I like Paula Hawkins as a writer. I liked Paula Hawkins as a writer. Even when I read The Girl on the Train, I felt it started off real slow, but I was blown away by the end. I thought the comparisons to Gillian Flynn were unfair, cos Hawkins is clearly a superior writer, who didn’t need someone like Flynn to piggyback on to market her book. But Into The Water proves these comparisons are justified. One of the reasons I hate Flynn’s work (and for that matter Jessica Knoll’s work) is the undercurrent of woman-hate in her stories. In Sharp Objects, for instance, Flynn’s MC blames and shames rape victims. Something similar happens in Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and even in Into The Water. The story is about “troublesome” women who got murdered. By troublesome, Hawkins is referring to women who were unhappy in marriages, or women who fell in love with men who weren’t available to them. That’s a narrow definition of “troublesome” and a most unfitting one at that. A regressive narrative, wouldn’t you say?
And the writing! Gosh. Red Herrings are great in a thriller, but when three people come forward and say they committed the murder and the author goes on and on for pages about how, yes, they did commit the murder, but then reveals on the very last page that nope, someone else altogether committed the murder, it just takes the sting out. I read the final confession of the murderer, flipped the page and saw “Acknowledgments”, and went, “Huh?” in underwhelmed bewilderment. I was in a public place when this happened, and the lady seated next to me asked, “Is everything all right?” I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, so I said, “Oh, nothing, I was just reading a stupid book.”
I know I may be too old to read Fear Street now, but every instinct tells me the last page of that will still be better than the last page of Into The Water. This is easily one of the most forgettable books I’ve read, and that makes me sad, coming from the same writer as The Girl on the Train.
Paula Hawkins, I’m not mad. Just disappointed.
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