Review

Somewhat chilling ride into the deep

Paula Hawkins' new novel, about a "drowning pool" in small-town Beckford where "troublesome" women keep dying through the ages, is a serviceable enough thriller on its own terms, but lacks its predecessor's knack for suspense. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/PAULA H
Paula Hawkins' new novel, about a "drowning pool" in small-town Beckford where "troublesome" women keep dying through the ages, is a serviceable enough thriller on its own terms, but lacks its predecessor's knack for suspense. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/PAULA HAWKINSPHOTO: FACEBOOK/PAULA HAWKINS

With Into The Water, British author Paula Hawkins has the unenviable task of living up to her searing bestseller The Girl On The Train.

Her new novel, about a "drowning pool" in small-town Beckford where "troublesome" women keep dying through the ages, is a serviceable enough thriller on its own terms, but lacks its predecessor's knack for suspense.

The dead woman at the centre of this novel is Nel Abbott, a single mother obsessed with the pool's history. In the final days before she herself ended up in the pool, she called her estranged sister Jules, who ignored her.

Jules is now forced to return to Beckford, scene of her traumatic adolescence, to help with the investigation into Nel's maybesuicide and care for her rebellious teenage daughter Lena.

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Hawkins demonstrated her mastery of the unreliable narrator in The Girl On The Train, which juxtaposes the points of view of three women around a disappearance.

In Into The Water, she ambitiously juggles at least 11 perspectives, from the mother of a previous drowning victim to an eccentric old woman who claims to commune with the dead.

  • FICTION

  • INTO THE WATER

    By Paula Hawkins

    Doubleday/ Paperback/ 357 pages/ $26.54/Major bookstores/3/5 stars

Some of these succeed individually - bright, bitter Lena stands out, her prickly exterior masking an immense grief - but the overall effect is unwieldy.

The book is at its best when it endeavours to trace the persecution of women through the ages, from the witch hunts of the 17th century to the merciless path of thorns a young woman today must walk as she reaches puberty.

There are genuinely chilling moments, although these are mostly in the flashbacks: the drowning of a teenage girl accused of witchcraft or Jules' sickening recollection of the event that severed her bond with her sister.

But, ultimately, a muddle of characters and a denouement lacking emotional punch mean that the novel spends less time diving deep as it does floundering in the shallows.

If you liked this, read: Sacken, a short story by China Mieville from Three Moments Of An Explosion (Pan Macmillan, 2016, $18.95, Books Kinokuniya), a brief but utterly terrifying tale about a lake, a sack and what might be inside.


Women-driven thrillers

Here are other psychological thrillers from the "grip lit" trend, where women are more than just love interests or dead bodies

GONE GIRL

By Gillian Flynn

Crown Publishing Group/2012/ $16.95/Books Kinokuniya

One of the trend's landmark titles, this thriller switches between the perspectives of Nick Dunne and his wife Amy, who has gone missing, as the dissolution of their marriage takes a sinister turn.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP

By S.J. Watson

HarperCollins/2012/$17.40/ Available for order from Books Kinokuniya

Christine Lucas has anterograde amnesia - she wakes up every day with no knowledge of who she is. She tries to reconstruct her memories from her journal, but begins to question its veracity.

THE CHILD

By Fiona Barton

Transworld/ 2017/$27.91/ released June 29

When a newborn baby's bones are discovered at a construction site, three women - a tabloid journalist, a book editor struggling with anxiety and a former nurse who lost her child years ago - are drawn into the mystery.

FIERCE KINGDOM

By Gin Phillips

Viking/2017/$27.91/ released July 25

An outing to the zoo turns into a nightmare for Joan and her four-year-old son when it is attacked by gunmen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Somewhat chilling ride into the deep'. Print Edition | Subscribe