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.


The Watcher by Ross Armstrong


It’s really hard to review some books. I have a policy that I *try* to stick to of not revealing any major plot points, which can be difficult sometimes, especially thrillers.


I even know one person who get annoyed when she finds out a book has a twist, which I found hard to reconcile at first, because if there were no twists, then we’d have no books. But then I realised she was referring to the unexpected twists that you might get in an Adele Parks or a Jojo Moyes book, rather than in thrillers like Girl on the Train, which are screaming out at you that there is a twist.


Speaking of Girl on the Train, I’ve just finished reading The Watcher by Ross Armstrong, the latest but not the last in a long line of books where the publisher is comparing to the Paula Hawkins thriller.


There is, of course, a twist, and you read it expecting one, but where and how it comes is what keeps you turning the page.


The premise of The Watcher is that Lily lives in an apartment in a part of London where old blocks of flats are being demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. The mix of people on the estate is changing and Lily’s habit of bird-watching has also changed into watching her neighbours.


So far, so Rear Window.


One of the girls from the old part of the estate has gone missing, and most people are walking past the missing posters as if it’s nothing to do with them. Lily included.


But she starts to feel guilty. What if she should get involved. Maybe she can help. And so she starts to investigate and she soon learns that the person responsible may be in the flat opposite hers.


Her neighbour-watching steps up a gear.


All of this is told as part of a confessional, being recorded for some unknown person. Everything we know is from Lily’s point of view and while things start out as fairly standard, soon things start to become fantastical, and it’s hard to know whether we can really trust Lily, or whether writer is simply relying on some hackneyed clichés.


And… that’s all I can say without spoiling anything. It’s good. It’s better than Girl on the Train.


Armstrong treads a fine line at some points, and it nearly suffers for it, but he just about gets away with it, and makes for a fun Sunday afternoon read – it’ll make a great movie.

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy

I’m starting off my 2016 reading by picking some books that I might not usually go for. Right at the top of the list was I Take You by Eliza Kennedy for no other reason than that it was one of the most recent ones to pass by my desk.


This is typical chick-lit. Or at least I thought it was.


I have read chick-lit before, but not really anything like this.


At first I thought that main character Lily Wilder was a cross between Samantha Jones (off of Sex and the City) and Ally McBeal (off of, well… Ally McBeal). But after a while I realised, this was a character conceived in the post-Lena Dunham world – although it is entirely possible this view point is coloured by the fact I’ve just started watching Girls for the first time.


Lily is a lawyer, good at her job, but neurotic about it (hello Calista Flockhart), but where she is confident and open in her life is in her sex life, a woman with a voracious sexual appetite (stand up, Kim Catrall).


Where Dunham comes into it though, is the author isn’t afraid to go there. The climatic scene of the whole plot is literally that, with the conversation taking place between blowjobs in the hotel bedroom and doing it doggy-style in the bathroom.


Let’s pause the sex for a moment and take a look at the plot.


Lily is getting married to Will. Will is perfect for her, except they’re rushing into marriage and something doesn’t feel quite right. Throw in that she’s sleeping with every man she encounters, single handedly defending an oil company from a massive compensation claim, and dealing with her father sleeping with all three of his ex-wives and Lily is having quite an eventful week.


It’s hard to say whether I liked this book or not. It made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and although the plot was a little ridiculous in places, it was definitely written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.


The sex WAS sexy (for those of you that are into that sort of thing) but did feel out of places (sometimes not so much tongue-in-cheek as… well, you know where I’m going with that one.


The plot seemed to lurch from one disaster to another, and there seemed to hang on a lot of coincidences. A huge storm and a treacherous colleague meant that Lily ended up working on her own with her gran’s help.


There were a huge number of characters, none of whom felt particularly well drawn – apart from Lily herself, who did maddeningly stupid things – although, at least these were picked up and pointed out by the other characters.


It took me a little while to read, it wasn’t the kind of book that I felt I had to return to every day, but when I did, I slipped back into it quite comfortably.


But did I like it?


Honestly, I’m not sure. But that’s why I’ve created a spreadsheet to help me work out if I like a book or not. I’m a fan of a spreadsheet.


From here-on, each book I read will be rated on several criteria – resulting in an average score out of five. This will also help me compile a proper Top 10 at the end of this year, instead of the hand picked one I created last year.


I like a chart.


I’m (probably) not going to go back and re-rate books I’ve read before, but to give you an idea on how the scale works I went back and re-rated two books from last year.


The one I liked the least Girl on the Train scored 1.4 on the scale out of 5 and A Little Life scored 4.6 – which is likely the closest we’re going to get to a perfect score.


I Take You by Eliza Kennedy is out now in Hardback and kicks off the new chart with a respectable 2.8 out of 5.