Into the Water by Paula Hawkins: A review

I found this book to be a bit of a hot mess and something of a disappointment after The Girl on the Train which was fairly meticulously plotted. Into the Water, on the other hand, is all over the place with more than a dozen different narrators with their own points of view. Scattered hardly begins to describe it.

Part of the problem may have been due to the fact that I listened to the audio version of this book while on a road trip. Perhaps I would have been able to understand the transitions better had I seen them on a printed page, since I am more of a visual learner. As it was, I found jumping around from narrator to narrator every few minutes confusing and hard to follow. 

Into the Water is set in the small rural town of Beckford, England, a place with a long history of very bad treatment of its women, beginning with drowning troublesome women as witches back in the seventeenth century. The town is built on cliffs beside a river with a bridge and a "drowning pool." All of these features have played their parts in the killing or disappearance of those troublesome women through the centuries.  

The action of the novel includes flashbacks to some of the earlier horrific events but the main action takes place over the course of one month, August 2015. Nel Abbott, a local writer who had been working on a history about the drowning pool, herself goes "into the water." She falls from the cliff overlooking the drowning pool. Her death is thought to be a suicide, but there are those who know or suspect differently.

A few months earlier, another woman - or rather a teenager named Katie Whittaker - had also gone into the water and her death also was put down as a suicide. There is a connection between Katie and Nel and her name is Lena. She is Nel's fifteen-year-old daughter and Katie's best friend. She knew Katie's secrets.

Nel also had a sister named Julia (annoyingly called Jules) from whom she had been estranged for many years. Julia (I refuse to call her Jules) had not spoken to her sister for eight years, even though Nel had called her repeatedly, especially just before her death, and left messages begging her to call because she had information for her. After Nel's death, Julia descends on the house and the niece that she doesn't know and determines to take them in hand.

The detective assigned to the case is Sean Townsend, who, naturally, also has a connection to the drowning pool. His mother had died there when he was just a six-year-old child. He had supposedly witnessed her death, after which he was left alone with a brutal father, Patrick, also a policeman, who is still alive, living in a house across the courtyard from his son and still dominating his life. Does no one consider that it might just be a wee bit inappropriate to have Sean investigating a death so closely resembling that of his mother? 

Sean is married to Helen, whom his father selected for him. She is head of the local school. There doesn't actually seem to be much of a marriage there. Does Helen live with Sean or with Patrick? Patrick is certainly devoted to her.

Sean's partner in the investigation is Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan, who is the only sympathetic character in the novel, at least for me. Erin actually seems to be a real human being and, even though everyone involved in the case attempts to mislead her, she does begin to tease out the history of the Beckford events and to understand what had happened there. I foresee a bright future for her as an investigator.

Oh, there are so many other characters: Katie's parents, especially her mother Louise; Katie's brother, Josh; a teacher at the local school, Mark Henderson; a psychic named Nickie Sage; a 17th century victim named Libby, etc., etc., etc. And we hear narration from ALL of them! Repeatedly. There's very little actual dialogue - just characters giving us their versions of conversations.

Moreover, Paula Hawkins has been unnecessarily confusing in her telling of the tale, obfuscating events in order to build suspense. Her characters do not behave logically or with any apparent motive. They just lurch about without any discernible plan in mind. 

All that being said, at the very end of her book, Hawkins does manage to tie things together a bit. Her denouement is almost Hitchcockian in its delivery.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


  1. Welcome back, Dorothy! :-) I hope your family members are well and you spent time with your lost ones at their resting place. Did that sound weird? :-o

    Anyways, I think that maybe Hawkins was trying to bring back the concept of unreliable narrator that made her famous. It's possible, per your impressions, that she took it a bit too far and gave voice to too many people, throwing red herrings right and left. Maybe in print this story works better. You seem to have liked it somewhat though. :-)

    1. Thank you. My daughter and I had a wonderful trip with plenty of time to discuss this book plus one other that we listened to. I think she liked this one a bit more than I did. I could have dealt with ONE unreliable narrator, a la The Girl on the Train, but a dozen or so??? Yes, she took the concept way over the edge, in my opinion, but at least she managed to end it well.

  2. As always, I appreciate your honest reviews, Dorothy. I enjoyed Girl on the Train, but I think I'll pass on this one. It sounds like a great idea for a story, but I can handle only one unreliable narrator at a time:)

    1. Yes, as I noted, I just found it confusing. You get the idea that Hawkins thought, "If one unreliable narrator is good, twelve must be twelve times better." NOT!

  3. I like that you and your daughter listened to the book together! Since I did not much like The Girl on the Train myself, I won't be delving into this one, but thank you for all of your fine explicating of the plot. Glad to have you back!

    1. The narrator of The Girl on the Train was obnoxious, clueless, and annoying. Multiply that by about a dozen and you've got this book.


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