Novelist Paula Hawkins could be forgiven for stepping off the gas. After all, her debut thriller novel The Girl on the Train, sold 18 million copies worldwide and the movie version starring Emily Blunt grossed $175 million.
But she certainly can’t be accused of taking things lightly with her follow-up novel Into the Water, the plot to which features drowning, suicide and murder.
The psychological suspense novel hits shelves on May 2. You’ll be hearing all about this book in late spring when Hawkins embarks on a seven-city US book tour but a kind publishing source has passed Heat Street an advance copy of Into the Water to dive into.
Here’s our first look at it.
Set in the northern English town of Beckford, lives, truths and mysteries breed around The Drowning Pool, a ‘place that gets under your skin,’ ‘a slick, frictionless, reptilian thing,’ that has claimed the lives of seven women, two of which occurred in the year before the action takes place.
The novel begins with the apparent suicide of a female resident of Beckford—the compulsive but disagreeable Nel Abbot. Nel ‘wasn’t much liked.’ Although she ‘shone,’ but she is also described as ‘an attention-seeker’ and a ‘slut.’ Nel’s fiery daughter Lena and her estranged misfit sister, Jules, whose lives are messily thrown together following Nel’s passing, investigate the truth and the mysterious deaths in the Drowning Pool.
Jules and Lena are two of the many narrators that carry this complex story, in which the author scrupulously explores themes of morality, mortality, grief, memory, truth and love.
As the case into Nel’s death develops, relationships are revealed and secrets leaked as police officers Sean and Erin (another two of the narrators) attempt to unearth the mysteries of The Drowning Pool and the women whose lives it has claimed. ‘Beckford is not a suicide spot,’ wrote Nel before she plunged to her death. ‘Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.’
Into the Water aims to be the thriller of summer 2017 but will it be the next The Girl on the Train? Will it wind up number one in the US and UK fiction charts for a combined total of 33 weeks like its predecessor?
We shall see. Certainly Into the Water is fast-paced, addictive and easy to read (the style of the new novel very much echoes The Girl on the Train and is likely to bewitch the same audience). There are certainly enough surprises to keep the reader on her toes.
I say ‘her’ because undoubtably Hawkins is consciously speaking to a female audience: Men are generally shown to be predatory and duplicitous. The women are punished for falling into the hands of male manipulators, penalized for adultery and preyed on by male characters in positions of responsibility.
Despite circumstances being against her, Nel is quick to zero in on the injustices of the patriarchy (‘Nel’s view of the Drowning Pool… [is that] it’s [a] place of persecuted women, outsiders and misfits fallen foul of patriarchal edicts”).
This is an edgier, more message-driven book than The Girl on the Train. Hawkins uses dialogue to comment on social norms with strong underlying messages: ‘I thought rape was something a bad man did to you, a man who jumped out at you in an alleyway in the dead of night, a man who held a knife to your throat. I didn’t think boys did it.’ In this sense, Hawkins’ writing is more conscious of the reader and of the magnitude of her audience than she was in her previous novel.
Similarly, there are lots of contemporary colloquialisms that make for easy reading—‘one minute I’m shopping for wedding dresses and the next he’s telling me he can’t go through with it ‘cos he’s met the love of his life… After that, I just cut him off. Deleted his number, unfriended him, the full monty.’
Despite the apparent simplicities, Hawkins of course has many surprises up her sleeve, which she throws at the reader when it is least expected. The chopping and changing of narratives and tenses and the extensive cast of characters add color and pace, and Hawkins cleverly drip-feeds enough clues and inferences for the reader to believe they’re in control, before pulling the rug from under them.
Claiming that Into the Water is hotly anticipated is an understatement. Dreamworks Pictures has preemptively bought the rights to a film version following its commercial success with the movie adaptation of The Girl on the Train last year.
Hawkins released a brief statement in advance of publication saying, “This story has been brewing for a good while. For me there is something irresistible about the stories we tell ourselves, the way voices and truths can be hidden consciously or unconsciously, memories can be washed away and whole histories submerged. Then two sisters appeared, and the novel began to form.”
That Into the Water might be more of a success than The Girl on the Train is a tall order but all the right ingredients are there.
You certainly won’t want to go for swimming for a long time to come….