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.