Book Review: Into the Water – by Paula Hawkins

Book Two Into the Water

Pages: 356

Box Ticked: A book that scares you

Paula Hawkin’s debut novel “The Girl on the Train” divided my book club. They either loved it or hated it. Always wanting to be my own person, I had a love-hate relationship with it. I loved the premise (I am definitely one for people-watching and making up

Paula Hawkins Authorimaginary lives for them in my head – although definitely not to a stalker degree), I loved the style (fast-paced and gritty), I loved the setting (having lived in London for a short period I always love a bit of nostalgia); but I loathed the main character, Rachel. I think maybe it’s because I don’t drink, and Rachel drank A LOT! She was also annoyingly pathetic. There’s only so much wallowing in self-pity I can take and I myself am a real wallower. But anyway, the big takeaway from “The Girl on the Train” is that in a Paula Hawkin’s novel, everyone is going to have secrets!

Although also a suspenseful, psychological thriller, “Into the Water” has a very different feel to “The Girl on the Train”. Although I probably could have read it in one sitting – it does grip you and pull you in – like the slow winding river at the story’s core, the narrative unveils itself at a much slower pace and you find yourself wanting to turn the pages slowly and unravel the mystery gradually. It’s hard to know where the story begins but we’ll start with Julia (or Jules). She grew up spending summers in the Old Mill House in the small northern village of Beckford. Beckford doesn’t have much, except for a river, and a disturbing history of women who have lost their lives to it. Julia’s older sister Nel, with whom she had a torrid relationship, was obsessed with the river and its secrets; and has now become part of its mystery herself – she has fallen victim to the river.

Beckford

They say she jumped, but Jules knows that Nel would never have jumped – even though she left her a panicked and distressing voicemail just days before her death, a plea that Jules ignored. Dragged back to Beckford and memories that Jules has spent years trying to forget, she must try push all of that aside They don't all jumpto look after Lena, the teenage daughter that Nel has left behind, who seems convinced that her mom did jump, and is struggling to come to terms with feelings of abandonment. Nel was far from popular in the small town, where she was working on a book detailing its history, specifically that of the river and the mystery surrounding why it attracted such hopelessness and despair. She was not short of enemies, is it possible there is something more sinister to her death?

The story is told from the perspective of each of the characters, whose lives become more and more enmeshed as the story progresses. It is told with such grace and dexterity that Hawkin’s really does have you guessing from page to page who is embroiled with who; who knows what; who jumped and who was pushed? Once again, the characters are flawed, but not beyond hope. Jules suffered intense trauma as a child, while staying in the old Mill House, that is so inter-woven into her relationship with her sister Nel, she has somehow never been able to overcome it, and now she must face the reality that she will never have the opportunity to. We only know Nel through her description from others and the picture painted is a complex one. It is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions, and I love this. In fact, there are so many moral grey areas in this novel, your heart could grow weary if you let it.

The River

I categorised this as “a book that scares you” because I tried to read it last year, but I had to stop. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the book itself, but as you may know if you have read some of my other blog posts, I lost my best friend to suicide last year and the subject matter was hitting a little too close to home. When I couldn’t decide whether or not I was ready to giveThey aren't all pushed it another go, a lady in my book club took my hand and said something that she said my mom had told her about the book when she was struggling with it herself: “Not everyone jumped, and not everyone was pushed.” I was scared going in, but that gave me hope. Right down to the last page, I wanted to know everyone’s story.

Ultimately, I felt that this was a book about love; about who we love and why; and about what love makes us capable of doing. There was one particular passage that stood out for me that I wanted to share:

p.210 “Lena sat motionless, staring at the river outside the window, not crying and not speaking. I had nothing to say to her, no way of reaching her. I recognised in her something I used to have too, something maybe everyone has at that age, some essential unknowability. I thought how odd it was that parents believe they know their children, understand their children. Do they not remember what it was like to be eighteen, or fifteen, or twelve? Perhaps having children makes you forget being one.” Jules

Although Jules is speaking specifically about the unknowability of teenagers, I don’t think it’s something we ever grow out of. I think that, no matter how much you love a person, you can never truly know them, and so when something as awful as a suicide happens, you can never blame yourself, no matter how close you were to the person. They had that unknowability about them. Something that you couldn’t touch; that you couldn’t reach; that you couldn’t fix. No matter how much you loved them.

The Drowning Pool Hand

It’s a little bit of a scary read, but it’s a rewarding read. They didn’t all jump and they weren’t all pushed.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: The Friend – by Dorothy Koomson

If I’m going to read 52 books this year I guess I’ll need to prove it, and I figure the best way to do that is to review them. Let the book reviews begin:

The Friend Review

 

Pages: 468

Box Ticked: A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet.

I first fell in love with Dorothy Koomson when I was working part-time in a book shop as an undergraduate student majoring in English Literature and Philosophy. I didn’t have much time to read for pleasure. Fiction was my favourite section to organise – straightforward A to Z, having as many covers facing out as possible, because people do judge a book by its cover. Not me though, I judge a book by its title. And so, when I found “Marshmallows for Breakfast” by Dorothy Koomson, I knew I was onto a winner. And the cover with soft, comforting pastel shades of pink, blue and yellow didn’t hurt. After months of staring at it, I finally used my 30% staff discount for the first time to treat myself to a copy.

Dorothy Koomson Everywhere

I won’t lie. I was disappointed. The story didn’t live up to my expectations. But then again, how could it? I had built it up for months. But I decided Dorothy Koomson deserved another chance. So, I went back to the beginning, back to her beginning, and her first novel, “The Cupid Effect”, which I had to order. When it arrived, the cover also had those soothing tones and a catchy hook, “Dare you follow your heart?” I remember reading the Prologue on my break in the back office. My heart nearly beat out my chest. It was a list of the protagonist’s “Good Intentions”. And numbers 6 and 7 were like she had seen into my soul:

Prologue

I had been obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff series Angel for all of my adolescent years. And let’s be honest, the rest of my life since. And that year in particular I was definitely guilty of staying up too late watching old re-runs of both shows (which had long since gone off air).

The similarities didn’t end there. The book’s protagonist was like my spirit animal. I related to her in every way possible – even in ways I wished I didn’t. And the writing was sensational. It really was like she could see into my soul. She wrote the way I wished I could. And so that was it. Dorothy Koomson became my new literary best friend. She went on to make me cry in “My Best Friend’s Girl” and ugly cry in “Good Night Beautiful”. I have turned so many people onto her books – both friends and customers – and have bought so many of her books as presents I really do deserve some sort of commission by now, hint hint.

Anyway, let’s get back on track, this is supposed to be a review of “The Friend”, not an ode to Dorothy Koomson…

“The Friend” follows Cece Solarin who has reluctantly moved her three children to Brighton to join her husband who has received a shiny new promotion. Determined to make the best of this fresh start, Cece is horrified to discover that she has unknowingly enrolled her children in a school where just three weeks earlier, one of the parents, a popular mother named Yvonne, was brutally assaulted and now lies in a coma. Weary of everyone, she is somewhat relieved when she quickly makes friends in a community that seems extremely cliquey.

Her new friends, Maxie, Anaya and Hazel, couldn’t be more different from each other, but as close knit as the group seems, each has their own set of closely guarded secrets, least of all, exactly where they were on the night Yvonne was assaulted. Each friend seems comfortable confiding in Cece, but is she just a replacement for Yvonne? Or is she in very real danger of being the next victim? When the police come to Cece to help them with their investigation, she is reluctant to spy on her new friends, but as with any mother, she will do anything to protect her family.

Although this book came out in July in South Africa, with the current exchange rate as it is, I had to wait until my turn to host book club in September to buy it, and December for my turn to get my hands on it. As with “Marshmallows for Breakfast”, I was worried the anticipation would taint the final result, but not so in this case. I feel like Dorothy Koomson’s writing has matured as she has (something it makes me heartsore to say, I feel is deeply lacking in the case of Marian Keyes, another author I do really love). Her female characters have real depth and go well beyond their looks, careers and love lives. As with most of her novels, I found myself relating to the main character, Cece, particularly in that I wished I could be more like her; specifically, more brave. She was just the right amount of flawed, without being whiny and annoying at any stage; she never played the victim and you never felt sorry for her, only empathy. And I think that is a tricky emotion to invoke in a reader.

As the secrets of the other characters unravelled, I stayed up well past my bedtime, turning the pages, trying to guess whodunnit; and she had me guessing until the very end. Some of my bookBig Little Lies club friends who only read the blurb had the audacity to compare it to “Big Little Lies”, what with all the attention and acclaim it received with the release of the mini-series last year, as though my precious Dorothy was some sort of plagiarist. But prep school and precocious parents aside, that is where the comparisons can end.

Ultimately, I give it a solid 4 out of 5. It is an easy read, although it does coverDorothy Koomson Profile Pic some very intense and relevant topics on sexual assault, exploitation and racism. In a world desperate for real, realistic female role models; Cece, Maxie, Anaya, Hazel and even Yvonne from time to time, give us everyday examples of what it is to be a woman in 2018. This is an important book. Read it.

Easter Egg: As someone who judges a book by its title, I was a little disappointed by “The Friend”, but there is a deeper meaning to it…