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.

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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.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Every now and then a book comes along that sells and sells and sells. The likes of Grey and Go Set A Watchman come along occasionally and sell – to use a technical term – shitloads in a short space of time.

But some books sell and they consistently sell well and they top the charts week after week.

The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Gone Girl, Fault in Our Stars, all of these are amongst the bestsellers with some of them still going even now, years after their publication.

After the phenomenon that was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the sequel The Lost Symbol was released to great fanfare in 2009 and spent a record breaking nineteen weeks in the number one slot in the Fiction Hardback chart.

To put that into context, there are SO many books published each week, that the average title stays in the charts for around six to seven weeks.

The Lost Symbol spending that long at the top of the chart is the book-world equivalent of a man living to be 250 years old.

Earlier this month, that record was broken by the book that even the most casual of readers will have noticed hanging around in bookshops – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Since Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl first hit the heights of popularity, a new genre has emerged in fiction – domestic noir. Basically tense thrillers involving a married couple – The Girl on the Train is just the latest in a long line of hit titles in the genre – but it may well be the peak.

I finally got round to reading GotT this week and… I struggled. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s a nice twist – literally – at the end, there are some very tense moments, and it’s well written.

But parts of it are predictable – in fact, that’s the nature of domestic noir novels – not always that the husband did it, but they feature a small cast of characters, and so it is often easy to spot the bad guy (or girl).

Where these books succeed is in the character’s motives and the ‘how do they get through this’ factor.

The Girl on the Train is just not worth the hype. There is no discernible reason why it has had the success it has had, when others that are equally good or even better have not fared as well.

It’s a good read, it’s a quick read, but it’s distinctly average. Perhaps as a gateway drug to the genre, it’s a good book, or even for those desperate to read more of this type of title, but I suspect we are now at the point with any resurgent genre where we will see a huge cascade of copy-cat titles.

Besides, she’s not even on the train that much.