Category Archives: Paula Hawkins

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

For those of you who were following the blog before it’s hiatus, you may remember that I was a real fan of The Girl on the Train, the novel that went on to sell and sell and sell, and have a movie made and then sell more and sell more and sell more. I was a fan of it from the off (I think I read it a month or so after it came out, my thoughts are here) finding the thrills and the slightly side eye wry way it looked at how society pigeon holes women and how they ought to behave. So I was instantly looking forward to the follow up, Into The Water, which I wanted to go into forgetting all those sales I mentioned but must have been a pressure for Paula herself in some way. A shame that success like that can bring the freedom to write but also brings out the pressure and reviewers knives freshly sharpened at the ready. This reviewer has no sharpened knife. This reviewer thought it was bloody good.

Transworld Publishers, hardback, 2017, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

When they came to tell me, I was angry. Relieved first, because when two police officers turn up on your doorstep just as you’re looking for your train ticket, about to run out the door for work, you fear the worst. I feared for the people I care about – my friends, my ex, the people I work with. But it wasn’t about them, they said, it was about you. So I was relieved, just for a moment, and then they told me what had happened, what you’d done, they told me you’d been in the water and then I was furious. Furious and afraid.

The main story that runs through Into The Water is that of Jules who finds out that her somewhat estranged sister has died, seemingly having thrown herself into the infamous ‘drowning pool’ back in their home town of Beckford. (I say the main story because there are layers of stories throughout the drowning pools history, the first narrative in the book being of Libby in the 17th century, this will all make sense soon I promise.) Despite herself Jules returns to her hometown to look after her niece, Lena whose best friend died in the drowning pool not long before her mother, who clearly would really rather Jules hadn’t come into their lives and harbours some ill will against her aunt for her seeming desertion of her family until now.

As Jules starts to sort out Nel’s house, she discovers that her sister had a rather grim fascination of the drowning pool and its history. For many, many years it has had a dark history, particularly for women, as it was the place of the drowning of accused witches (see, told you Libby’s narrative would make sense soon) as well as the spot of suicides of women for generations since. Yet what if some of the deaths weren’t suicide, what if someone used those legends and tragedies for their own gain. Would Nel really be the sort of woman to kill herself and leave her sister behind? These are the things Jules starts to contemplate, whilst also bit by bit her history with her sister and their estrangement start to come back to Jules and also make her question how well liked her sister might have been.

 I returned my gaze to you, to your slender wrist, to the place where the onyx clasp would have rested on blue veins. I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up. I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room. I thought perhaps that I should kiss you, if like Sleeping Beauty that might do the trick, and that made me smile because you’d hate that idea. You were never the princess, you were something else. You sided with darkness, with the wicked stepmother, the bad fairy, the witch.

This is all gripping stuff. I mean you have historical drownings of suspected witches, a period in history I find fascinating and I do love a good witchy tale. (I have to admit when I thought Paula had written a thriller about 17th century witches I was almost beside myself. That isn’t this book, though there is a slight supernatural moment or two which I really liked and thought really worked.) Then you have the deaths throughout the years since, one of which really genuinely shocked me – in an ‘I am slightly disgusted with myself for enjoying being so shocked’ way. Then you have the modern day family drama, another thing I love, and the secrets from the past that come back to haunt you. Then Hawkins adds another level, perfect for nosey people like me, as you start to get to know (and nosy about in) the lives of other people in Beckford and go behind those twitching curtains.

It’s a fucking weird place, Beckford. It’s beautiful, quite breath taking in parts, but it’s strange. It feels like a place apart, disconnected from everything that surrounds it. Of course, it is miles from anywhere – you have to drive hours to get anywhere civilised. That’s if you call Newcastle civilized, which I am not sure I do. Beckford is a strange place, full of odd people, with a downright bizarre history. And all through the middle of it there’s this river, and that’s the weirdest thing of all – it seems like whichever way you turn, in whatever direction you go, somehow you always end up back at that river.

Admittedly this might not be for everyone, there are about eleven or twelve narrators in this book. Yet for me, the way Nel and her life intersected (and in some cases didn’t, who doesn’t love a red herring) with the rest of the people of Beckford and any naughty/dark shenanigans they had going on in their own lives and homes creates a wider jigsaw puzzle for you to put together. I really liked that. I particularly liked Erin Morgan one of the detectives on the case, who I really hope comes back in another Hawkins novel in the future.

One thing I find crime fiction and thrillers can do really well is look at human nature and how some people react in that kind of pressure, in Into The Water with such a big cast you have plenty of that. The area that they excel at, when done well, is looking at a subject or theme in society of our times, or the times if they are historic. As I mentioned in The Girl on the Train it looked at alcoholism and the expectations/stereotypes society created for women, and did it brilliantly I thought. With Into The Water Hawkins takes a look and discusses – and I am have not named many characters so as you can see how this happens yourself with no spoilers – the subject of consent and again, I think, handles it brilliantly whilst really making you think. I shall say no more.

I really, really admire Paula Hawkins for doing something really quite different from what people might have expected after the success of The Girl on the Train. How easy it would have been to create another thriller with a smaller cast and just one big juicy, twisty plot. Instead she has created multiple narrators, multiple plots and multiple mini drama’s around the central story and created a whole town and a whole host of characters and their secrets. I think it really worked, it certainly had me turning the pages until the early hours. I look forward to the next.

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Filed under Paula Hawkins, Review, Transworld Publishing

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

We have all done it haven’t we? Or should that be, we all do this don’t we? We have all been sat on a bus, the train, been in the car (preferably not driving) or just been nosey through the net curtains and seen certain faces again and again and made up lives for those people we regularly see but don’t  dare to speak to. This has been the case with Rachel as she makes her way to and from London, creating the perfect life, projecting her own dreams, on one couple who she names “Jason and Jess” whose house she passes twice a day. However one day on her way into London Rachel sees something that isn’t right, “Jess” is kissing a man who definitely isn’t “Jason” ut on their decking.  Things take a twist a few weeks later when it turns out that “Jess” is actually a girl called Megan who has gone missing, with the knowledge of what she has seen has Rachel got the key to the mystery?

Transworld Books, hardback, 2015, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

This could be a simple and thrilling, erm, thriller in itself until we see Rachel realise that the night Megan went missing was also a night when Rachel got off the train at the nearby station, very drunk, to go and watch the house she used to live in with her ex husband, who now lives there with his new wife Anna and their child. Yet, in one of her more and more frequent drunken states, Rachel blacked out and can’t remember what happened. Yet from the state she wakes up in and with the fuzzy feeling of dread it would appear that whatever it was it was very, very bad – what could this mean?

The Girl on the Train is one of the best thrillers I have read in quite some time and not just because of the intriguing premise. Hawkins does some very clever, tricky and twisty things with this novel that make it one of those brilliant mysteries that work on many levels. Firstly of course there is the above mentioned plot, a mystery which quite simply begs for the reader to follow Rachel as she tries to solve or absolve herself from any involvement with what has or hasn’t happened.

Secondly is the unexpected way in which the novel is written. I imagined that the whole novel would be Rachel trying to find out just what the blinking heck has happened. Wrong! Initially we get the story from Rachel ‘in the present’ but soon we get the narratives both of Megan (before and leading up to her disappearance) and Anna, who Rachel seems to have just as much of an obsession with as she did “Jason and Jess”, giving us a whole new light on Rachel. All this creates an additionally compellingly complex aspect to the novel, without being hard work or off putting, along with three intricate and multifaceted female narrators.

I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable; I am off putting in some way. It’s not that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written over all over me, they can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.
One night last week, when I left my room to get myself a glass of water, I overheard Cathy talking to Damien, her boyfriend, in the living room. I stood in the hallway and listened. ‘She’s lonely,’ Cathy was saying, ‘I really worry about her. It doesn’t help, her being alone all the time.’ Then she said, ‘Isn’t there someone from work, maybe, or the rugby club?’ and Damien said, ‘For Rachel? Not being funny, Cath, but I’m not sure I know anyone that desperate.’

Rachel is someone you both feel rather sorry for, when she is vulnerable and heartbroken/just plain broken, yet feel really creeped out by when she starts hitting the bottle and hanging around her old street either to watch her old house or try and ingratiate herself within Megan’s. On the one hand you want to sit with her and a bottle (or six) and just let her vent, then you want to give her a bit of a shake and tell her to get a grip of herself, then feel you would avoid her in the street at all costs and cross to the other side, before promptly feeling bad and sympathising again. This is wonderfully depicted in Rachel’s relationship with Cathy, an acquaintance of sorts who kindly let her stay and is really quite regretting it now.  As she is clearly down the road to alcoholism you sympathise whilst also being fully aware that she us completely unreliable and possibly an obsessive stalker trying to fill the sad and cold emptiness in her life in any way she can. At the same time you just know all she wants is to be happy. This adds an emotive and often slightly uncomfortably realistic side to life that we have all had elements of in our lives, though hopefully we didn’t go to quite the same lengths.

Megan and Anna’s narratives may not appear as often but that doesn’t make them any less vivid, human or naturally flawed. Anna is a woman who came into Rachel’s ex husband’s life all confidence and stole him from her, now with a new baby and Rachel drunkenly turning up out of the blue she is becoming a paranoid bag of nerves, is this karma for what she has done? Megan may also seem perfect and have the most handsome of men in her life, she is also a sex addict who cannot stop herself from having affairs and getting herself into trouble. As the novel moves on each of the women lets more and more of the facade they have given their lives slip a little more creating a fascinating, brooding and ominous tension that makes you (cliché alert, but true) turn the pages faster and faster to the final dénouement. I won’t say too much more as I want you to go out and grab this book and spend some riveting time with these three characters.

The Girl on the Train is one of those thrillers I love because it can be read in a number of ways. You can read it as a bloody good thriller. You can read it as a fascinating insight into the psyches or three women and how they are trying to survive in the situations they find themselves. You can read it as a look at how society sees, and often pigeon-holes women, into certain categories based simply on the expectation of women morally, how they look on the surface or their lifestyle choices and how that affects them and what the realities are. Or you can read it as all three. Whatever you do read it!

Oh and don’t pay attention to the comparisons to other novels in the genre (novels which I also loved I will hasten to add) as I really think The Girl on the Train should be read for its own merits as it can certainly stand up for itself. Who else has read it and, without spoilers, what did you think of it?

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Filed under Books of 2015, Paula Hawkins, Review, Transworld Publishing