A gone girl; a murky past; a slippery, grey-toned mystery: The last time Paula Hawkins tumbled down this rabbit hole, 20 million readers (and a major movie adaptation) followed. Inevitably, Into the Water arrives with both the burden and privilege of association with one of the biggest pop-literary bombshells of the last decade, and it takes care not to stray far from the moody, through-a-glass-darkly universe The Girl on the Train conjured so vividly.
Here though, the canvas has been greatly expanded; Water pours on no less than 14 narrators, all residents of an otherwise bucolic village in Northern England whose river claims an unusual number of female victims. Were the two most recent — a popular, seemingly untroubled teenager and a fortyish single mother with a not-small list of local enemies — simple suicides? Or is the more sinister truth, as more than one character notes, that Beckford is “a place to get rid of troublesome women”?
The book’s piled-on storylines lack the feverish, almost subdermal intimacy of Train, and Hawkins’ pulp psychology has only the soggiest sort of logic. Still, buried in her humid narrative is an intriguing pop-feminist tale of small-town hypocrisy, sexual politics, and wrongs that won’t rinse clean. B-