Into the Water, the most recent novel by Paula Hawkins, is even more abundantly ridden with multiple narrators and confusing plot points than her previous release, the best selling Girl On a Train.
Hawkins doesn’t make it easy for us, with the constant shifting and shuffling of point of views (POVs), not giving us enough time to appreciate the depth or complexities of her characters. It feels like we’re missing vital clues pertaining to the plot, which are unceremoniously swept under the rug and either seemingly forgotten by Hawkins or just blatantly ignored.
Into the Water is a story of a small town plagued by a dank reputation. Women often die in shady circumstances, victims of drowning in apparent suicides in a place called the Drowning Pool. This has been a tragedy-attracting magnet since a young girl by the name of Libby was wrongly accused of witchcraft in 1679 and subsequently drowned in its waters by her accusers.
This is how the novel begins, with Libby’s drowning and her desperation and pain as she drowns, something that Hawkins achieves quite well. However, the main plot revolves around a new death, that of Nel Abbott who is found dead in the water in what everyone hurriedly suspects is a suicide.
Hawkins’ characters all have some disturbing past to hide. Nel’s sister Jules whose relationship with her older sibling had withered away to nothing, its demise provoked by something Jules has kept in the dark from everyone and just can’t forgive Nel for. Lina, Nel’s teenage daughter, now becomes Jules’ unwanted responsibility. Although Lena despises the aunt she’s never known and resents how she blatanly ignored all of her mother’s attempts at contact, she’s curious about the secret Jules is keeping.
There’s also Nikki, the resident witch and psychic, who knows more about the deaths than she’s telling. Sean, the resident policeman who has his own troubled history. Mark, the high school teacher who carried on an inappropriate relationship with one of his students, who just happens to be Lena’s best friend Katie, who also committed suicide by drowning herself in the infamous Drowning Pool.
In Into the Water, Hawkins touches strongly on the subject of misogyny. Women who are abused by the men in their lives either physically, verbally, or by neglect. But we also get the eerie sense that these men are the dominant force in the town. Men who unashamedly believe that single attractive women are ripe for the taking, while their wives are either put on a pedestal for their meekness or properly chastised if they show a hint of spine and refuse to follow orders.
Hawkins’ constant narrative shifts soon enough become too much and too confusing, never really allowing much exploration of her character’s personalities. We know Nel was investigating the deaths at the Drowning Pool, but we really don’t know much of what drove her to do so in the first place. Through Jules’ narrative, and pages from Nel’s journals, we do get a glimpse of her rebellious past and her often troubled present.
The dead women also speak. This sometimes confuses the narrative and makes us question whether their intervention in the story is even necessary. Perhaps leaving them as reference characters would have been enough.
The mystery of Nel’s death and the discovery of whether it was suicide of murder is what drives the plot, while simultaneously exploring the other questionable drownings at the pool. By the end, it’s dissatisfying how some plot holes are never filled and some questions never get answers.
It’s hard working through the smoke and mirrors of Hawkin’s characters in Into the Water to get to the story. We try for the most part to get with the program and learn the truth. The problem is that by the time all is said and done, we’re too exhausted and majorly disappointed with the characters and the story to care.