Uh oh! Follow-up book after an enormously successful debut book alert! Cue literary freak out and the onslaught of think pieces about a Sophomore Slump! Paula Hawkins is back with her new novel Into the Water. You’ll remember her almost inexplicably triumphant previous book, The Girl on the Train. The bad news for people who loved Train is that Into the Water is really nothing like it. The good news for everyone else in the world is that it is a lot better. Water is more evolved, more nuanced, almost broody in tone and while I dragged myself through the first third of it, the payoff is huge.
Nel, a single mother of a teenaged girl, is found dead at the bottom of the river in a small town in England. This comes after another girl, her daughter’s best friend, met a similar fate a few months earlier. The Drowning Pool, as the town calls this site, has a long and terrible history of claiming women’s lives – in fact at the time of her death, which is determined a suicide, Nel was writing a book about the site and it’s ignoble myths. Nel’s sister, Jules, is a stranger to her daughter Lena, having been estranged from her sister since a traumatic incident in childhood, yet she is now Lena’s only family. Lena firmly refuses to believe that her best friend or her mother would have just left her, though everyone else is sure this is what happened. Naturally she starts an investigation of her own, and gets into as much trouble as possible while Jules’ inattention gives her the freedom to do so.
This is only the main story, there are so many side and peripheral stories that I won’t even go into them. Paula Hawkins is not messing around when she decides to develop characters, and while they were well written and interesting, it got fairly confusing to figure out who was who and all the intricacies of plot in this labyrinth of a book. It took me nearly half the book to get them all clear in my head (I’m picturing A Beautiful Mind-type situation in Hawkins dining room while writing) and that is a lot of work to ask of a reader. Luckily the prose is beautiful and I am an enormous sucker when anything reminds me of Hamlet.
Into the Water is more sophisticated in plot than The Girl on the Train, and more interesting to read, but the pace is much slower and darker. I sort of figured out the ending, but was insanely impressed by the sheer possibilities, scenarios and suspects. My vote is No Sophomore Slump for Hawkins, but you be the judge.
Into the Water – Grade B+