By Paula Hawkins
In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .
This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…
Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I’m aiming for when I read fiction, especially on holiday. And yet…
Paula Hawkins is such a beautiful writer. From the very first page, she created a mood that was just perfect for this story. Dark, melancholic, with an air of menace and mystery. The village, the Drowning Pool, the river itself, all so real and so atmospheric. The characters, too, even though there are so many primary ones, are all such individuals that I quickly felt I knew them. Although, of course, we can never fully know anyone else, which is one of the well-developed themes of the novel. And yet…
There is a lot of darkness here, and a lot of abuse and violence, both in the present and the past. Not graphic in any way, but deeply disturbing, at least to me. And very little hope, even at the end, when I really needed it. Paula Hawkins doesn’t seem to think much of human nature, especially male human nature. And she doesn’t seem to believe there is much chance of us flawed creatures ever forming truly satisfying relationships, of any kind. I’m not saying she’s completely wrong, I’m just saying that I like a tiny ray of light with my darkness. Especially, as I said, on holiday.
And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from a bit of revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two. Four seems fair.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t guess the solution, not totally, but it didn’t really feel like that kind of book, anyway. Less an intellectual puzzle and more an exploration of the things people do to each other and themselves, and why.
Have you read this novel, or Paula Hawkins’ other thriller, The Girl on the Train? What did you think?