Title: Into the Water
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Transworld Publishers
(part of the Penguin Random House group of companies)
Price: Rs. 599/-
No. The title of this review is not some bizarre attempt at deadly black humour gone horribly, politically-incorrectly, wrong – as admittedly, the book centres around a stretch of waters dubbed the “Drowning Pool”, and narrates the tales of women who jumped in or were pushed in its life-sucking waters.
Rather, it is a tribute to the author; an acknowledgement of Paula Hawkin’s vaulting to a new high point with this, her latest title. She has achieved a leap in quality rarely to be encountered in second books: usually either an author produces a brilliant first novel and then the graph drops or remains flat – till the next killer book comes along, taking the writer to a new high; or one writes an “okay” or “fairly decent” book, and plods along like a chugging train on even terrain ever after.
I must say though – at the risk of sounding like a dilettante – that I liked Paula Hawkins’ first book (Girl on the Train), a lot better than the rage of the day at the time, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Into the Water’s dedication reads, quite simply: “For all the troublemakers”. It got me, it caught me, it quite swept me on a tide of thought and emotion. For, every independence-loving, forward-thinking woman who is also unconventional compared to her times, is seen as a “troublemaker” by society. Hence, to me, this initial one-liner held quite a resonance. Though, to a large extent the “troublemakers” referenced in the book are women whose love interests lie, or are perceived to lie, outside their marital boundaries, one can yet extrapolate the description to women who yearn for something more than what their life currently offers, not limited to sex, or sexual adventures.
The focal point of the book is the drowning of Nel. Did she jump? Was it an accident? Was she pushed? Nel was an ardent photographer and collector of stories – all to do with the Drowning Pool and the tragic fates of the women who had met their end in its depths; and the people connected to them whose lives are irrevocably affected by their deaths. Moreover, she is greatly obsessed with the characters and stories of time gone by; as much as the women recently drowned in the water. She is a strong, independent woman who has a daughter in her mid-teens, whose father is unknown; she is a woman who speaks her mind, and in the teeth of opposition from the people of the area is pursuing the writing of her stories of the Drowning Pool and its victims. She is also estranged from her troubled sister Jules and has been trying to reach out to her, unsuccessfully.
Unravelled through narration in different voices (different characters telling bits of the tale) and interwoven with legends abounding in the area, the book grips you like a riptide from the beginning.
However, there are a couple of areas that could have added further strength to the book. For example, lurking through the story is an old women who believe she is a seer and purports to have some mystical powers, among them the ability to communicate with those who have passed on to the great beyond. Her utterings and mutterings are supposed to be prophetic – in terms of the story of the place and some incidents. She is imbued with a witchlike presence, indeed feels she is descended from the witches of yore; and is viewed as the old batty crone of the village. She could have been like the Delphic oracle of Greek dramas. Yet, she remains a peripheral character much of the time, without actually moving the story along.
More importantly, and crucially, my one real quarrel with the author and the book is the end. While the story builds up like a storm with all its mysterious fury, the end, perhaps conceived as a twist, comes across as abrupt. The book seems to end on a whimper. The storm, a spent spectacle.
Even so, it is a book worth reading. And, in this genre, Paula Hawkins is a writer worth watching out for. So, waiting for the next one Paula!