Into The Water, Paula Hawkins
The men bind her again. Different this time: left thumb to right toe, right thumb to left. The rope around her waist. This time they carry her into the water.’
So begins one of the most powerful books I have ever read, Paula Hawkins’ ‘Into the Water.’
Two police officers arrive at Jules’ doorstep to inform her that there has been a tragic and fatal accident. Jules is apprehensive, thinking that something had happened to her friends, her colleagues, or her ex-husband. But when she knows that it was ‘only’ her sister, she is relieved. And on that one fact—- her sense of relief when she knows that it was only Nel, her sister, who had died—- hinges the entire book.
So there are two sisters. Nel, the elder, and Jules, the younger. Jules, the ‘baby’, is fascinated by her elder sister and her friends, her style and her sass, her easy air of assurance and her boyfriend. Nel tries to push Jules away every time she is anywhere close: and it doesn’t help that Nel is tall, willowy and attractive, and Jules, short and fat. Nel’s boyfriend is amused by Jules’ prickliness and tries to discover how deep the prickliness goes. The trauma this causes results in Jules trying to drown herself, Nel rescuing her…and a gap in their communication caused by misunderstanding that completely destroyed their relationship.
Nel is dead now and Jules has to return to Beckford and Mill House, where she had spent her childhood and teenage years. She meets Nel’s 15-year old daughter, who is convinced that her mother would have been alive, if her aunt had tried to connect to her in some way, or had replied to her mother’s calls or messages over the years. She insists that her mother had repeatedly tried to get in touch with Jules, but that the latter had neither returned calls, nor initiated them.
Lena’s friend, Katie, lived next door. At least, she used to, till they found her dead body in the same ‘drowning pool’, where they had found Nel’s. And Lauren’s. And Libby’s.
…and the bodies of several women who were ‘inconvenient’ to patriarchal mind sets.
Nel had been putting together an account of all the women whose corpses had been found in the Drowning Pool. She was asking questions, creating testimonials, putting together fragmented lives to form a mosaic of events and characters. She had even set up a camera on the hillside to record the movements of anyone who went up the hill that overlooked the drowning pool. But she was not able to complete what she had begun.
The story and plot are related by 11 characters in a collage of first person and third person accounts. Two police personnel: Erin and Sean. Lena and Josh, Katie’s 11-year old brother. Nickie, the local ‘witch’, and her sister Jennie, the erstwhile police woman. Helen, the headmistress, Sean’s wife, and Sean’s father, Patrick. Mark Henderson, a teacher in the school Katie and Lena attended. Katie’s mother, Julia, and her father.
Mystery, mysticism and magic are woven into the narrative. Half-heard voices, half-seen images, half-felt touches; and beneath them, all the time, every moment, and beneath every word, you feel the water in the drowning pool moving, like a living thing, glassily gleaming, slyly smiling.
Every time the reader feels that she has reached the end of the maze, she sees another turn or dead end in it. And so on. And so on. Until the very end.
The book touched a very visceral part of me. It is one of those books that you finish reading, and then stare at the wall, wondering what you will do for the rest of your life. Estranged sisters. Magic and mysticism. Elemental forces at work in ways that are odd and un settling. Silence. A lot of silence; and the sounds that interrupt it, sharp, and blood curdling.
But the sounds that you hear are not always external, or physical. They reflect the sounds that the mind makes, and the heart hears.
What stays in the mind for the longest time, is the way the author lovingly paints every nuance of a woman’s mind. Not what the world thinks she should be, but what she really is…passionate, lustful, terrifying, amusing, irreverent, compassionate.
Sadly, the Wikipedia page detailing the book, is not only replete with grammatical and syntactical errors. The way the plot is related would kill any interest in the book. Which is a pity.
Read ‘Into the Water’, for the truth. Read it for the love. Read it for its re iteration to stay in touch, and keep connected. Read it if you are a woman, and you are not afraid of looking into a mirror. Read it if you are a man who does not try to ‘change’ women.
Have a blessed day.