On Hating A Popular Book: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Last week in Barnes & Noble, I tapped this lovely cover with my finger and announced “This book is a piece of garbage.”
“Really?” my husband asked, “I just saw it on a list as one of this year’s best books.”
I rolled my eyes dramatically (one of my specialties) and shrugged, “I don’t know who made that list, but it wasn’t me.”
Such is the life of an avid reader and book reviewer: the whole world seems to be going nuts for a book, and I’m over hear saying “I don’t get it.”
Sometimes when a book has a lot of buzz, I’ll avoid it because I don’t want my opinion influenced before I even read it. That’s what I did with Paula Hawkins’ first novel, The Girl on the Train. It had been out for about a year when my book club chose it. It had been touted as an amazing thriller, blah, blah, blah, so of course my expectations were up, even though I tried to curb them. This book was supposed to blow my mind. It didn’t. It was solidly okay, but nothing groundbreaking. I gave it three stars on Goodreads. It was a fast easy read, fun to discuss over wine with my book club.
When I heard Paula Hawkins had a new novel coming out, I decided I wanted to read it ASAP so I didn’t have any expectations. I barely skimmed the synopsis so I’d be totally surprised!
I disliked Into the Water so much that when I finished, I was angry. The only other time that happened was Stephanie Meyer’s The Host in 2010. I vowed to never again force myself through a terrible book. Since then, if I dislike a book I quit it. I stuck with Into the Water because I thought surely it would get better eventually, plus my friend Lea was reading it at the same time and we love comparing notes.
This book was sooooo sloooow. It finally did pick up the pace about 2/3 of the way through, but by then I didn’t care, and the plot twists felt lame. Each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character, but there were so many I couldn’t keep track of who was who, and plot points were repeated from different character views, making the writing repetitive and the story lost its intrigue quickly.
After I finished the book, I looked online to see what other people are saying about it. The Goodread’s description calls it “… an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read. ” I was wondering if I read the same book?
Out of 18,088 ratings on Goodreads, only 478 other people gave it one star, only 2%. Another 9% gave it two stars, meaning “it was okay.” The rest all gave it 3-5 stars. Amazon ratings are a bit different. Out of 462 reviews, 20% gave it one star and 14% gave it two stars, while 26% gave it five stars, compared with Goodreads’ 17%. The Amazon review titles range from “Terrible” and “Don’t buy this book” to “So exciting” and “Loved it.”
I felt similarly about J.K. Rowling’s adult fiction debut, The Casual Vacancy. I tried twice. I really wanted to get into it it, but man oh man, I could not get through it. The reviews were similar, mostly one star or five stars.
I wonder what causes such polarity?
There are many contributing factors to a reader’s response to a book. Life experience, reading habits, personal opinions, reading history, all play a part in how a reader feels about a book. Often expectations work against us as well. We expect the book to be mind-blowing but it falls short, or we expect it to suck and it doesn’t so we rate it higher than perhaps is warranted.
Maybe if I only read a few books a year, Into the Water would have come across differently. Because I read many books from a wide range of genres, maybe I’m not easily impressed? This was the author’s follow up to a huge hit, and the concept is interesting but the execution falls flat. With some serious revisions, it could have been a stronger, more interesting novel.
Have you read Into the Water? If so, what do you think?