Book Review: Into The Water

Warning: Into The Water contains depictions of teenage suicide and sexual abuse, so if you would find these topics upsetting to read about, this is not the book for you.

‘Fans of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train rejoice: her second novel Into the Water is even better’

Good Housekeeping (Book of the Month)

Excuse me?

Into The Water is the second novel by Paula Hawkins, another thriller / mystery which follows Jules Abbott as she tries to work out how and why her sister Nel drowned. Did she jump, or was she pushed?

I found it incredibly difficult to form opinions on Into The Water without making direct comparisons to The Girl On The Train. You can read my book review of The Girl On The Train here.

When your debut novel sells over 1 million copies, spends 20 weeks as the number one hardback in the UK and is adapted into a film, I suppose the pressure to write another bestseller is on.

For example, there are lots of narrators – this book contains a lot more perspectives than The Girl On The Train. Yet I am tempted to say Hawkins may have bitten off more than she could chew here. Working out who characters were, and how they were all linked wasn’t straightforward. In some cases, characters felt underdeveloped and I couldn’t remember much about them at all.

‘What happened to the Paula Hawkins who structured “The Girl on the Train” so ingeniously?’

(Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

Into The Water was also a much quicker read than The Girl On The Train.

Arguably, this was a favourable quality – I finished it in a day and I was consistently keen to find out what happened. However, the pacing also made me acutely aware of how, in whizzing through the narrative at such speed, meant I may not have absorbed all of the character and plot details.

I guess people did really like Into The Water. It won the award for Best Mystery & Thriller in the Goodreads Choice Awards, and there are lots of positive reviews online. So, time for some positivity.

In terms of story telling, there was a good hook, and I think the setting was better developed than the characters. It was clear the town of Beckford was odd, with links to superstition about witches and a mysterious history of suicide, secrets and heartbreak.

Hawkin’s writing is also interesting in that every perspective offered is always skewed in some way – always unreliable.

In a mystery novel, this is great at shrouding the facts and allowing the reader to work things out themselves. However, the extent of unreliable narration used in this novel made it difficult to understand exactly what happened and why it happened – even by the end. Whilst this may have been the intended effect, I wasn’t a fan.

I did enjoy the story of Into The Water. Honestly. Unfortunately, I just think Hawkins’ writing techniques weren’t as effective this time around. Sorry.

Into The Water will be released in paperback on the 17th of May 2018.

– Judith

 

 

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Book Review: Sharp Objects

‘To say this a terrific debut novel is really too mild’ – Stephen King

I first read Sharp Objects after reading Gone Girl, due to the hype the film adaptation generated. Gillian Flynn’s writing introduced me to a style of thriller I now seek out by other authors too such as Paula Hawkins, Peter James and of course, more Stephen King.

Sharp Objects is the shortest of Flynn’s three novels, but is by far my favourite. I’ve only owned a copy of Sharp Objects for a few years and yet I’ve already reread it around 4 or 5 times.*

*Rereading novels is incredibly rare for me.

Sharp Objects is about a journalist called Camille Preaker, who is tasked with returning to the town where she grew up to uncover the mystery behind the murder of two young girls. Camille has barely spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother in years, but on returning to the town, finds herself reliving the psychological scars of her past in order to uncover the truth about the girls’ murders.

Warning: Sharp Objects, as one may be able to discern from the title and some book covers, deals with sensitive issues such as self-harm, abuse, and emotionally manipulative behaviour. If these are issues that may distress you, this is probably not the book for you.

I thought the pacing was good; on the shorter side, at 321 pages long, it means time is used efficiently. Flynn doesn’t write unnecessarily lengthy scenes and what is included adds to the story – both Camille’s own journey of recovery as well as the murder mystery.

I love the build-up and climax of this book, and every discovery Camille made was thrilling to me – even when I reread the novel now, I still get excited when the crucial plot points are revealed.

Furthermore, I empathise with the plight of Camille: a journalist struggling with the use of self-harm as a coping mechanism to combat the traumas placed on her as a child. I want to be a “proper” writer or journalist someday, and although I was never traumatised as a child, I understand the mindset of someone who uses self-injury to cope.

However, speaking of journalism, I wasn’t keen on the extracts of Camille’s articles included within the book. Flynn worked as a feature-writer for more than 15 years, and was still working as a journalist while writing Sharp Objects. Yet to me, when journalistic pieces are added into a novel, it never reads quite right because the two forms are so jarringly different.

Overall, I thoroughly liked the intriguing and disturbing story of Sharp Objects, the complex female characters and the topics the book draws attention to. If you liked Gone Girl, and want to be chilled by Flynn some more, I recommend Sharp Objects!

– Judith

Book Review: Child Taken by Darren Young

Child Taken is the brand new, debut thriller from Darren Young.

One summer’s day, a young Jessica Preston disappears from the beach where she was playing with her family. The police say she drowned, but her mother thinks otherwise. She thinks she was taken. 20 years later, another child goes missing, prompting a young journalist to uncover the mystery behind what really happened to Jessica. She finds someone with an explosive secret, which not only threatens to reveal the truth, but puts lives in danger.

After reading Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train last year, I’ve really grown to enjoy mystery and crime thrillers, and so it was a pleasure to read Child Taken, which follows a similar narrative style.

The chapters were a short length, which kept the pace moving, and helped easily switch between the two narrative perspectives of our female protagonists: Danni and Laura. This style heavily reminded me of The Girl On The Train, which tells the narrative through the eyes of Rachel, Anna, and Megan, and I liked this.

I particularly liked Laura, particularly because she works as a journalist, which is a position I’d like to be in myself one day, and the fact she uses her journalism to uncover a horrible secret reminds me of another Gillian Flynn novel, Sharp Objects, which is another favourite thriller of mine.

At various points in the book, there was definite, and well-crafted suspense – one Goodreads user said Child Taken ‘sucked me in and … spat me out’ – and I can definitely see its potential to become a book that people struggle to put down.

However, although some parts were genuinely thrilling, I felt other parts were slightly lacking – introductions of new characters were often followed by lots of background information which I found a bit unnecessary.

I really enjoyed Child Taken – by halfway through I was certainly “hooked” – and it’s an impressive debut novel. In places, it could do with a polish, but I think it has brilliant potential.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Child Taken will be available to buy as a paperback on Amazon UK from May 2017.

– Judith