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The Weight of Water

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  24,674 ratings  ·  1,627 reviews
Librarian's note: An alternate cover edition can be found here

A newspaper photographer, Jean, researches the lurid and sensational ax murder of two women in 1873 as an editorial tie-in with a brutal modern double murder. (Can you guess which one?) She discovers a cache of papers that appear to give an account of the murders by an eyewitness. The plot weaves between the nar
Paperback, 246 pages
Published January 7th 1998 by Back Bay Books (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

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3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  24,674 ratings  ·  1,627 reviews

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Oy. Where to begin?

I realized I was skimming pages, something I only do when I'm really bored with a story, so I checked what page I was on.

46. Forty-six!

How is it possible that it moves soooo slow that forty-six pages felt like a hundred?

Know what I don't need?
- Adjectives in every single sentence.
- The same island described a million times.
- The regular reminder in every chapter that the husband is a poet and (surprise!) liked to drink.
- Reminders every two pages that she's jealous.

David Abrams
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Anita Shreve (author of the much-touted "The Pilot’s Wife") has done the near-impossible in "The Weight of Water." She has written two tragic tales, separated by more than 100 years, and coiled them seamlessly into one compelling narrative. This is one of the most emotional, provocative and exciting novels I’ve read in a long time. For those who dismissed "The Pilot’s Wife" with a shrug, this is THE Shreve novel to search out at the local bookstore. "The Weight of Water" is a much better crafted ...more
Aug 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
“I learned that night that love is never as ferocious as when you think it is going to leave you. We are not always allowed this knowledge, and so our love sometimes becomes retrospective.”

Anita Shreve has such a somber but beautiful voice. Her stories are incredibly emotional.

The plot was somewhat scattered and none of the characters were developed enough for me to love them. However, that didn’t take away from this book for me, as it usually would. Some writers, good characters are all they h
This is a powerful book about jealousy, envy, rage and destructive secrets. I'd seen the movie, but the book is far more powerful and the consequences more devastating. I don't understand why they changed the ending in the film.
Jacquelyn Mitchard
How many times have I read this novel and felt the weight of its somber message and its deep artistry? Six? Seven? And how many times have I visited the place where the ancient events happened, on a tiny, forbidding island off the coast of New Hampshire?
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2006-2010
22. "On a small island off the New Hampshire coast in 1873, two women were brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. A third woman survived the attack, hiding in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, a photographer, Jean, comes to the island to shoot a photo-essay about the legendary crime. Immersing herself in accounts of the lives of the fishermen's wives who were its victims, she becomes obsessed with the barrenness of these women's days: the ardor-killing labor, the long stretch ...more
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it is just me but I had a difficult time with this book on an ethical basis. Two stories within a story. One in current time the other based on an actual event that occurred in 1873 on Smuttynose Island. Shreve offers the reader her own alternate theory of what happened in 1873 through one of her fictional characters removing a ficitional diary of the sole survivor (real person)from the archive of a library. We, the reader, learn the truth about the murders through this discovered diary. M ...more
Jan 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ladies looking for a beach read; romantic teenagers
Anita Shreve could be described as a guilty potato chips. I thought this was one of her better efforts, with interwoven plots, some great characterization, and a very sure hand with the New England background. Even though I saw the present-day plot twist coming from about page 10, the book still held my interest...I mentally screamed, "Look out! Disaster ahead!" several times. I enjoyed this book very much, but most of her others, notably "The Pilot's Wife" (gee, how could the re ...more
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads, 2013
Shreve is a lyrical storyteller, but this one did not come together for me as much as some. I loved the idea of the old murder mystery, combined with the present day...but felt little attachment to the characters of the present.
I will say, I figured out the twist in the past story, but did not see the present day twist coming...kind of blindsided me. She paints a beautiful picture of her settings and I was transported to a different and harsh time. A rather sad story overall.
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Asghar Abbas
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it

A true watery dirge. Harrowing and ultimately haunting.
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have always regarded Shreve as a "borderline junk novel" writer. Her storylines are engaging, always containing an element of juicy scandal, but her writing style is not accomplished. There are some authors whose prose alone can make you pause in astonishment. Shreve is not one of those writers. In this novel, however, her sparse narrative blends seemlessly with the world that it describes. The novel takes place on and around the island of Smuttynose, off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire ...more
Craig Dube
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
A book selection from our Book Club group (and one that has long been recommended by my wife), I found that I was pleasantly surprised with this book and really enjoyed it. The backdrop for this story is a series of murders that took place on Smuttynose Island back in a 1873. Two Norwegian women were brutally murdered while a third woman escaped by spending a frozen March night in a nearby sea cave. Living near Portsmouth NH, this is one of the more notorious murders and one that carries some co ...more
Lisa Ruminski
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I found the converging stories in this novel fascinating. The movie adaptation is also worth watching.
Kirsty Darbyshire

After reading the hefty and only half good Fortune's Rocks I wanted to read some more of Shreve so I picked the slimmest volume in the bookshop hoping that she could write more consistently compellingly in a shorter work. And I got what I wanted - this book would have been unputdownable if I hadn't have had so much to do. I woke up before my alarm this morning and before I got a chance to decide whether I really ought to try and get a little more sleep my head had decided I needed to finish this

In The Weight of Water, Anita Shreve tells a story of pain, jealousy, and passion. Her characters and their closest relationships--with siblings, with partners--are trapped in isolated and claustrophobic spaces. Shreve tells the story of the murders of two Norwegian immigrant women on Smuttynose Island off the coast of New Hampshire in the late 19th century. She explores the 19th Century events in the context of a contemporary photographer's trip to the island to capture the location for a magaz ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, anita-shreve
Oh, man, I'm torn, twisted, seasick, I think, after finishing this book. Two different stories were going on and Shreves had me going back and forth and back and forth till at the end my dinner was coming back up in my throat. Even though I picked this book up and read about 15 pages a couple weeks ago, I finally then read the entire book in one day. I could not put it down! It was totally absorbing and slightly sickening but very good! I want to give it 5 stars but can only give it 4 since it m ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve was a library book sale find for me. The story surrounds a journalist/photographer, who is on a small boat, with her husband, young child, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. The trip is to visit an island off the coast of Maine where a horrible domestic crime had occurred years before, get some pictures and do some research. It sounds simple enough.

As Jean, the journalist’s, research into the ill-fated family are appearing in her own family, trapped as they ar
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
The Weight of Water: Ax Murder, Best Selling Novel, & Tourist Attraction

CLICK HERE for BlondeVsBooks full review and details about the true crime

Jean Janes is researching the Smuttynose Murders. Bringing along her husband and daughter, she charters her brother-in-law’s boat to take photos and get a feel for the island. She pulls letters, journals, and information about the trial which are archived in the historic city of Portsmouth. Jean steadily unravels the story leading up to the murder
Barbara Poore
Oct 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
My friend lent this to me while traveling in Spain since my other books were stolen. I doubt that I would have picked it up on my own. The double story of a woman who travels to an island off Portsmouth NH (Smuttynose--there is a present day brewery of that name in Portsmouth--who knew?) to research the 19c murder of two women on the island, interspersed with the story of the murders by one of the survivors. The present day story seems poorly grounded....what magazine would pay a photographer to ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This novel is really two stories in one. First there is the story of Norwegian immigrants coming to America, and secondly we have the contemporary story of a photographer going to the island where the immigrants lived to photograph and research a 100 year old murder.

A murder of two women took place over 100 years ago on the island of Smutty Nose in the Isles of Shoals. Maren Hanvent moves to this very remote, sparse island with her fisherman husband. They are followed by her sister and brother
Mar 30, 2009 rated it liked it
This book may be best summed up as a summer read, chick lit guiltily knotted into historical fiction. Anita Shreve binds together the gristly 19th c. murders at Smuttynose, a small island off the coast of New Hampshire, with the slow keening of a contemporary marriage.

As a child I grew up sailing and anchoring off the Isles of Shoals, listening to tales of the pirate Bluebeard, treasure and murder; swimming in the deep black waters; and exploring Smuttynose and the Haley house (of which I'm a d
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love Anita Shreve.
Read this for my circle group, luckily it was one of hers I hadn't read.
I loved the way the modern and real life events of 1873 are interwoven.
It's a chilling novel but I was soon engrossed.
The descriptions of the harsh conditions and climate left you feeling chilled!
Beautifully written and very compelling.
Had me up late last night to finish!
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very dark and shocking in many ways, but beautifully written. I loved the way Shreve wove the two stories together. I did not foresee the ending at all. Kept me turning pages up to the end.
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. The story had me from the first line to the very last one. Awesome and crushing in the telling.
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pamela Mclaren
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Anita Shreve has created two parallel stories, both dramatic and riveting. One set in 1999 when a photographer, her husband, young daughter, brother-in-law and his girlfriend travel by boat to Smuttynose Island off the coast of Maine.

Jean, the photographer, is there to capture photos reflecting on the 1870s murder that occurred on the island (based on a real life incident). She also goes to a local museum to do research on the incident that involved three women, two of whom are murdered. At the
Nadine Doolittle
Oct 14, 2010 rated it liked it
I was surprised when I finished this book to discover I kind of liked it when there are so many reasons not to.

1)The long and largely irrelevant passages about Maren's life in Norway.
2) The unexplained hostility between the two sisters (Maren and Karen--yikes--imagination where art thou?)
3)The past story of the murders and the present tale of jealousy went off the rails at the critical moment. Frankly, the whole narrative from the past didn't hang together very well.
4)The cliched moody drunk p
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was ok
It's very rare that a book -- especially a standard-issue novel -- sends me to the dictionary. This one did not once, but twice, and early in the book. Although I've heard both words many times, and knew in general what they meant, I felt compelled to look up their real meanings, given the sentences they fell in. The sentences, with the words in italics below:
"The island is not barren, but it is sere and bleak."
"The Isles of Shoals, an archipelago, lie in the Atlantic, ten miles southeast off th
Jeanette Grant-Thomson
Make it three and a half stars. I consider this one of Shreve's better books although I find the subjects off-putting.

Jean, a photo-journalist, travels with her family to investigate the rumours that persist over the murders more than a century ago on the island of Smuttynose in the Isles of Shoals. Collecting material from a library, she finds the translated memoirs of Maren Honvet, the woman who escaped after the murders of her sister and sister-in-law.

Two stories are told, interwoven often wi
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Turmeric Forskolin As we age, the ability to keep up 1 1 Feb 09, 2019 12:02AM  
The two different murder scenarios 2 46 Mar 06, 2014 01:49PM  
Mansfield Public ...: The Weight of Water Review by Julia Joseph 1 8 Jul 27, 2013 11:12AM  
Worcester Public ...: "A Memorable Murder" 1 11 Apr 08, 2013 09:01AM  
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Anita Shreve was an American writer, chiefly known for her novels. Shreve's novels have sold millions of copies worldwide. She attended Tufts University and began writing while working as a high school teacher. One of her first published stories, Past the Island, Drifting, (published in 1975) was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1976. Among other jobs, Shreve spent three years working as a journalist ...more
“Sometimes I think that if it were possible to tell a story often enough to make the hurt ease up, to make the words slide down my arms and away from me like water, I would tell that story a thousand times.” 31 likes
“I learned that night that love is never as ferocious as when you think it is going to leave you. We are not always allowed this knowledge, and so our love sometimes becomes retrospective.” 27 likes
More quotes…