Paula Hawkins Takes the Plunge with 'Into the Water'
Fans of mystery and suspense have been eagerly awaiting Paula Hawkins' follow-up to her wildly successful The Girl on the Train. That book was a runaway bestseller, the 2015 Goodreads Choice winner in the Mystery & Thriller category, and went on to be a major motion picture.
Well, the wait is over. This month her psychological suspense, Into the Water, hits bookstores. Hawkins takes readers to a small town where a single mother turns up dead in the river, just months after a teen died in the same murky water. These morbid events dredge up the deadly history of the river and the secrets kept among those in the village. Goodreads asked Hawkins about her new novel, the books that made her a fan of mysteries and thrillers, and what books she'd recommend to fellow readers.
Into the Water?
Paula Hawkins: There are many different narrative threads to Into the Water; they didn't all occur to me at once. What I started with was the idea of writing about a familial relationship—I chose sisters—that has been deeply and irrevocably affected by something that happened to them when they were young. I wanted to examine the way we remember our childhoods, the stories we tell about ourselves and our families, and to find out what happens when those stories might not be true.
GR: Are there any parallels in your mind between the characters in The Girl on the Train and those in Into the Water?
PH: Both are novels of psychological suspense and both are focused primarily on women and their relationships to one another and to society around them. The unreliability of memory plays a part in both books, although it occurs in a very different, more fundamental way in Into the Water. Once again the story is narrated from multiple points of view, although this time I have many more characters' perspectives and six different first-person narratives. Necessarily, these narratives are unreliable: All first-person narration is unreliable. Everybody lies, exaggerates, obfuscates to a greater or lesser degree.
GR: What is the most difficult thing about writing a novel of psychological suspense? How do you plot out the story line to keep readers guessing?
PH: Plotting a psychological suspense novel requires a certain degree of sleight of hand; you want your readers to be wrong-footed, you want them to wonder about who is telling the truth, about who they can trust, and about who they should be wary of. But you need to do so within certain bounds; red herrings need to serve some sort of purpose, twists in the plot must make sense, they need to lead somewhere if there is to be any sort of satisfying conclusion. That said, I don't think everything has to be neatly tied up at the end of a novel. Personally I enjoy books where some questions are left unanswered, some mysteries left unsolved; it leaves the reader space to imagine a future for the characters.
GR: What does the obsession with water represent in your book?
PH: Water cleanses, it is a source of pleasure, it is life giving. And yet it is dangerous, too. Looking onto any body of water, it's hard not to wonder: What lies beneath? Into the Water is, in large part, about the search for truth, the search for meaning where none is easy to find; I think the river, fluid and often opaque, reflects that.
The Girl on the Train changed you as a writer?
PH: Success may have changed many things about my life, but I don't think it has altered the way I write—although inevitably the knowledge that I have a large readership waiting for my next book does come with its own set of pressures.
GR: Did you feel a lot of pressure to follow up The Girl on the Train?
PH: Yes, although it was mostly self-inflicted. The fact that there are readers all over the world who are keen to read my next book is daunting, obviously, but it's also a great privilege. I'm eager—but also a bit terrified—to find out what they think of Into the Water.
GR: Let's talk influences! What books got you hooked on mysteries and thrillers?
PH: I developed a taste for crime as a teenager with Agatha Christie, but I think it was Donna Tartt's The Secret History that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the psychological thriller. I read a lot of crime fiction now: I particularly love Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, which, like Tartt's work, blends cracking plots with beautiful writing and exceptionally crafted characters. I am also a big fan of Tana French's police procedurals as well as writers such as Megan Abbott, Cara Hoffman, and Gillian Flynn.
GR: What other books would you recommend?
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
"Not a whodunit but a whydunit: Emily Ruskovich's arresting debut hinges on a shocking act of violence, but it grows into something far greater than the mystery at its heart. This is a beautiful, hopeful book, a story of enduring love and the nature of forgiveness."
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
"In this, my favorite of her stellar Jackson Brodie detective novels, Kate Atkinson turns her clear-eyed gaze onto the myriad ways in which men do women harm. The plotting is intricate, the humor is black, and the outlook often bleak, but Atkinson's warm and gutsy characters are captivating."
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
"Cormac McCarthy's starkly eloquent prose describes a violent tragedy played out against the bleak U.S.-Mexican border. Featuring one of my favorite villains of all time, the terrifying Anton Chigurh."
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
"In the latest of Abbott's electrifying psychological thrillers, she transports us to the hyper-competitive arena of gymnastics, a place where the dreams and aspirations of not just families but entire communities rest on the slender shoulders of a single teenage girl. Abbott writes beautifully and honestly about the experience of female adolescence."
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
"Novels inspired by or based on real crimes are having a moment (think The Girls by Emma Cline or See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt), but Atwood's finely detailed and gloriously gothic reimagining of the life of convicted murderess Grace Marks sets the standard."
Be sure to check out more of our Mystery & Thriller Week coverage here.
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