Paula Hawkins: Psychological Suspense or Just Boredom?

Paula Hawkins: Psychological Suspense or Just Boredom?

Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on The Train was a monster best-seller: published in January 2015 it has since been translated into more than 40 languages, published in 50 countries and sold a shocking 20 million copies.

#1 New York Times bestseller, USA Today “Book of the Year” and a major motion picture starring Emily Blunt, this debut novel -focused on the unlikable woman and a dark view of suburbia- quickly turned into a global phenomenon.

Back then, Hawkins was down on her luck after a string of unsuccessful romantic comedies written under the pen name of Amy Silver — now, she’s one of the highest-paid authors in the world.

The second novel is a notorious challenge to a writer and now, given the success of The Girl On The Train, all eyes are on Paula Hawkins. Will Into the Water live up to the expectations?

Janet Masnet from The New York Times is convinced of the talent and quite sure about the easy win: “Hawkins could have published a book of 386 blank pages and hit the best-seller lists”-she wrote in her review published last April.

Others aren’t so sure, especially Val McDermid -an award-winning author of crime novels and writer for The Guardian– who was expecting more from Hawkins. In her review McDermid looks quite disappointed by the lack of suspense and the structure of the novel: “an embarrassment of narrators and the clunky withholding of information is death to suspense. No doubt the sales of her second thriller will be massive. I suspect her readers’ enjoyment may be less so”.


A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.  
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

I’ve read Into the Water in one stand, but I can’t say I liked it. Why? I got bored. Paula Hawkins has proven herself capable of excellent work, being able to handle intricate plots and a platoon of main characters; but to me, Into The Water fails to deliver, and the main reason is purely structural.

Too many voices for a predictable story

The story is carried by 11 narrative voices, almost identical in tone and register. Hawkins does not so much introduce these characters as throw them at the reader in rapid succession. Stunned by so many voices you don’t have time to process who’s exactly who. More than once I had to stop and think “Wait a sec.. who is this again?”. Jumping back and forth between so many characters ends up being both monotonous and confusing. Not to say exhausting.

This “multiple viewpoint” writing style could have been “new” in Gone Girl and maybe even tolerable with a couple of characters…. but, 11?? How many characters is “too many“?

Give me thrills not boredom

We all agree that part of the mechanism of suspense is withholding information -either from the reader or the main character(s)- but we also agree that the author, soon or later, must deliver that “OMG moment”, when the reader realises they have been looking at the picture the wrong way up. However, Hawkins “dragged her feet Into The Water a bit too long with the result of the death to the enjoyment of suspense and a very unsatisfying read.

Dark stories not always require dysfunctional women

In a Q&A with The Los Angeles Times Hawkins explains her love for troubled, dysfunctional characters and she said: “[..] yes, I’m focusing on people who have problems and who are quite damaged, but if I were writing about happy people it wouldn’t be a crime novel. The stories I’m telling are dark stories, so the characters are likely to be troubled. But I think I have a great variety of womanhood in this book, from the damaged to the successful”. WellI’ve meet the damaged…not yet the successful. But maybe that’s just me.

Like it or not, Paula Hawkins has definitely found her niche and, we have to admit it’s a winning one. How so? Into The Water is soon going to be adapted into movie at DreamWorks Pictures; “La La Land” producer Marc Platt and Jared LeBoff are already at work, willing to recapture the adaptation of “The Girl on The Train” success -which grossed $173.2 million worldwide.

Into The Water: hit or miss?

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins: hit or miss? If you are going to read Into The Water, or if you have already, let me know your thoughts down in the comments.

What books have you read that didn’t live up to the hype?

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