A(nother) Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Just how do you follow up a phenomenal bestseller like Girl on the Train? Any author would find it difficult, but when said phenomenon was your first stab at writing a thriller, the prospect of a second one can probably be a bit daunting.

 

How does Paula Hawkins do it? By doing something completely different.

 

The most obvious difference is that Girl on the Train was a first-person narrative, told from the point of view of three different women, while Hawkins’ second thriller Into The Water uses multiple viewpoints (I lost count at ten) and switches between first and third person.

 

There are some downsides to this approach. Most obviously, it’s a little confusing. The short chapters associated with thrillers of this type, and the switching of viewpoints, means that within the first seventy pages or so, we’ve been introduced to a LOT of people.

 

Each chapter is helpfully headed up with the name of the character we’re inhabiting at that point, but after their first introduction they are subsequently only introduced with their first name. I’d have found last names helpful for a little longer, just so I could keep track or just who was related to who.

 

However, there are some plus sides too. We quickly explore the community of Beckford and it helps push the plot forward at a good speed and adds to the paranoia and intrigue of the overriding mystery.

 

Speaking of the plot… what is it?

 

Local woman Nel Abbott is found dead in a nearby river – the river itself has a long, sad history of women dying in it, a history that Nel was investigating for a book. A few weeks prior to Nel’s death a local girl Katie was also found dead in the same stretch of water.

 

Are their deaths connected? Were they both suicides? Is something more sinister going on? Something… supernatural?

 

The structure of the book means the mysteries come thick and fast, and so, subsequently, do the the revelations at the end of the book – some of them expected, some of them not.

 

Here’s the big question… Did I enjoy it?

 

It’s certainly a compelling, page-turning novel and I think better than Girl on the Train. Like it’s predecessor it will make a good adaptation from page to screen, although in the case of Into The Water, a television mini-series would probably work better.

 

The other big question, will it reach the same sales peak? Probably not. Although a better book, Girl on the Train had a cracking title and caught a wave of popularity that is almost impossible to recapture when it’s not a continuing series.

 

There’s a line in the book “When you hear hooves, you look for horses, but you can’t discount zebras.”

 

It’s a well-phrased line that made me think. Expect the unexpected. I was expecting not to enjoy Into The Water as much as I did. I was wrong.

A(nother) Review: How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

The American President is a motherfucker.

 

Just one of the lines from Matt Haig’s new novel, How To Stop Time, which forces you to stop time, stop reading, and laugh out loud.

 

The story is a relatively simple one, but one that I’ve been eager to read since I first heard about it last year. Tom Hazard is old. He’s very old. Four hundred and thirty-nine to be precise.

 

He has a are condition that causes him to age at about a fifteenth of the rate of everyone else, which sounds rather excellent at first, because we’re all a little bit scared of death, and this man will get to live – probably – for a thousand years.

 

Except… everyone else isn’t aging at the same rate. His parents, his friends, those he love. They all die, will die, eventually, while he’ll live on.

 

We join him at the beginning of a new life. Tom periodically, along with others of his kind, starts again, as people become suspicious of his never-changing youthful appearance. As he navigates the new relationships, trying to avoid becoming too attached, we learn about his history, about his wife long-since dead, his past encounters with famous writers and poets… and his daughter who MAY still be alive.

 

Any novel that plays with time is expected to be a little convoluted, hard to follow, but this is such an easy read – because while time is long, there is no time travel in it, the pieces we read of Tom’s past are like the flashbacks we see in any contemporary novel – they’re just to a much earlier time.

 

I found the principle of the story intriguing, just how can someone cope with that much loss in their life, what propels him to keep going when year after year the people around him are dying, the history of the world is repeating itself over and over again.

 

The answer, we learn, is hope.

 

Hope that his daughter may still be alive, hope for a better life, where one day he can be open about who he is.

 

If you follow Matt Haig on Twitter, you’ll appreciate this book on another level. There are references to the trolls he encounters on a daily basis who attack him for being a snowflake, and there is an underlying political point that Haig is making in this novel – but if you miss those, then that’s ok – it’s still a wonderful book.

 

It is a testament to the writing that a book like this can work. Much of what we have is exposition, historical narrative explaining who Tom is, with the plot only really going up a gear towards the end. But a skilled writer like Haig can just sweep you along in the writing – and it takes a certain special something to make a reader instantly remember the name of an obscure character mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book when they later pop up again.

 

If I had one criticism… I wanted more. I could have stayed learning about Tom’s history for pages and pages more. We skip over years and years – because as implied there were great periods of nothing happening.

 

Perhaps a sequel?

 

How To Stop Time is published on 6th July by Canongate

A(nother) Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Do you have a book case? Most people do in some form or another.

 

And I’m assuming because you are reading a blog about a book, then you do too. (Unless I’ve tricked you into coming to this website by adding in some random tags like ‘Beyonce’ or ‘Zoella’) Whether you have one book or a hundred, or twenty thousand (Jacqueline Wilson claimed this last week), you’ll have somewhere in your home that is the home for books.

 

But how many of you us ever re-read a book? I’ve got around 200 books on my bookshelf. All of them there for different reasons, they’re either signed books, or someone special gave them to me, or they remind me of a friend.

 

Or they’re just a very special book.

 

The truth is, apart from the Harry Potters last year, I don’t re-read any of them –  which kind of makes you ask… why do we keep them?

 

Maybe it’s the memories the bring back when we look at them on the shelf. Maybe it’s to show off to our friends… or maybe we know one day we’ll need them again.

 

I was recently in the mood for a book I could trust. I’d just finished Little Deaths which… I didn’t love. I found it hard going. It took me two weeks, when most books take me on average around five days.

 

In the middle, I read Tinman by Sarah Winman which I loved. So, I was left in a position where I was going to find it hard to find a book to match up to the one I’d just read and loved, but I needed to find that I knew I would enjoy more than the other one I’d just read.

 

So I turned to my book shelf for a book I could trust. And that’s where I found The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a book that I hadn’t read in over twelve years.

 

For those hat don’t know, the plot concerns Henry DeTamble who first meet his wife, Clare, when he is 29 in the library he works in. She first meets him when he travels back in time and lands in the field outside her family home.

 

Henry is a time traveler, not through choice, but through a random genetic defect. He can’t control it, nor does he know the cause. Largely, he travels back to places along his own timeline.

 

This is the story of the Doctor and River Song long before Steven Moffatt came along, and told in a much simpler way. The trick, is not to follow the time traveler, but to follow time itself.

 

Niffenegger tells us the story of Henry and Clare in a largely chronological way, often this means that the Henry we see is both older and younger than the previous and subsequent versions of Henry that we’ll see.

 

At it’s heart, this is a love story, an exploration of fate versus free will. Like all good books, it explores that one emotion that binds us all. The one that defines all of our lives. Love.

 

And it’s just so effortlessly perfect, and simple, and sad and happy, and everything all at once. There are sometimes, just one too many peripheral characters to keep up with, but this is an inevitability when you’re exploring the whole lives of two people.

 

Re-reading The Time Traveler’s Wife was like a warm hug, like seeing an old friend. It sounds cheesy, but these are clichés because they happen.

 

If you’ve never read The Time Traveler’s Wife then it would always have been at the top of my recommendation list, so go read it now.

 

If you have read it before, maybe it’s a trip back in time (geddit?) and read it again? Alternatively, give your bookcase purpose again, visit it and pick up another book that you love, one that you trust, but haven’t read in years and rediscover the reason why you decided to keep it hanging around in the first place.

A(nother) Review: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Some books have a lot of potential. Some of them exceed them, some of them meet them, and some of them fall short.

 

I didn’t know anything about Little Deaths before I read it, I just knew that the people who were reading it, liked it.

 

So, I’m going to give you a head start on me and tell you a bit about it.

 

Ruth Malone wakes up one morning to find her children are missing, and to no reader’s surprise – the book isn’t called Little Missing, Then Safely Found Again A Few Hours Later, after all – they are found dead.

 

We follow Ruth, her estranged husband Frank and journalist Pete Wonicke over the following weeks and months (and then years) as the deaths are investigated by Sergeant Devlin.

 

Facts are twisted, witnesses are manipulated and a sense of grief, then suspicion is shared by the entire community.

 

The book keeps you guessing, the writing is good, and you get a real sense of time and place, but… did I like it?

 

It would be generous to say that I did – at most, I didn’t hate it.

 

So, what didn’t I like about it? It’s hard to put my finger on it. We spend a good chunk of the beginning of the story getting to know Ruth, then we swerve her for quite a large chunk of the book and focus on Pete instead.

 

This is where the writing I good, we swiftly invest in him as our lead character, his motivations are clear, and the story from his point of view is intriguing. However, he soon becomes obsessed with Ruth, with the story, and we don’t really understand why.

 

At first, I went with it, thinking it would lead somewhere, that maybe it would uncover something about Pete that we didn’t yet know, but from thereon Pete doesn’t really develop as a character.

 

The two barely interact, and when we do subsequently jump back to Ruth’s point of view, it jars. The ending isn’t particularly satisfying either.

 

I can only think that the point of the story was to delve into the witch hunt that is taken against Ruth, a woman of seemingly loose morals, but again, there seems to be no real pay off to that strand either.

 

The reveal of the murderer comes several years after the children’s deaths and is a bit of a so-what moment. I didn’t feel it added anything to the story to reveal who it was – possibly because I’d got to the point of not caring, but also because I like the ambiguous nature of Ruth.

 

The way it is done as well is somewhat anticlimactic – one character asks another if they did it, and they reply that they did.

 

Four years it took someone to think to ask.

 

Like I said, some books have a lot of potential. This, doesn’t quite get there, however, it feels like an early draft of a good book.