Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.
The very first page of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins whose debut novel The Girl on the Train became a global best-seller is a re-imagining of a horrific historic moment. A young girl accused of witchcraft is ‘tested’ by seeing whether the water will accept or reject her. Her death by drowning ‘proves’ her innocence. This is a story of drowned women with a touch of the uncanny to the whole proceedings. One of the central characters is a self-proclaimed psychic who speaks to the dead and is reportedly a descendant of an executed witch. It’s also a story about stories; there’s a double manuscript within the book, including and most especially those stories we tell ourselves. Like The Girl on the Train, Hawkins explores the fluid, imperfect, nature of memory and how easy it is for people to construct false narratives. Which means we are treated to a series of unreliable narrators.
The first such narrator is Jules Abbott a thirty something social worker who’s shocked to learn that her estranged sister Nell has purportedly jumped off the Beckford bridge and left Jules custodian of her teenaged daughter the beautiful, troubled Lena. Beckford’s bridge and infamous ‘drowning pool’ have seen the deaths of many women over the years, including a teenage girl only a few months before. Indeed Nell Abbott had a morbid fascination with the site and was writing a book about it; something that put her on the bad side of a number of local residents. Jules Abbott is forced to confront the past she’s spent over twenty years running from and learns hard truths along the way. Nor is she the only one. There are more than a few secrets in Beckford. Hawkins is working with a larger canvas here than in her debut and with far more characters. It was risky but she pulls it off with a writing style that’s lyrical, elegiac, melancholy, and macabre all at once. It’s a book you’ll want to read in one sitting and the final pages with echo with you long afterwards.
Into the Water
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