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Literary Glance: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

June 13, 2017

As soon as I found out that Paula Hawkins had a new book out, I knew that a bunch of people were going to hate it.  It wouldn’t matter if the book were actually good or not; a huge percentage of book buyers were going to hate it on principal.

A couple years ago, Paula Hawkins broke through big time with The Girl on the Train.  Advertised as the next Gone Girl, a lot of readers had high expectations and then were disappointed.  Maybe that wasn’t fair to Paula Hawkins.  Maybe she didn’t ask to be compared to Gillian Flynn, but she was, and that’s what happens when a new author’s book gets compared to a blockbuster bestseller.  The Girl on the Train sold a lot of books and even was made into a movie.

I’m not justifying the hate Into the Water was going to get.  I just had a feeling it was going to happen.  A lot of people thought The Girl on the Train was overhyped and nothing like Gone Girl, the novel to which it was most compared.

I like to get my own impression of a book before I read the reviews, so I glanced at Into the Water.  I read a few chapters and got an idea of what the book was like.  And then I went to Amazon to see what the reviews were like.

Holy crap!  That’s a lot of one-star reviews!!!

To be fair, some of the poor reviews are also two-star reviews, but still, it’s quite significant.

I know that Amazon reviews aren’t always fair, especially with its star system.  But if you read the content of each review, you can usually tell who has actually read a book and who is pushing an agenda.

I agree with some of the one-star raters in their criticisms.  There were maybe too many characters crammed into really short chapters.   Some readers said that the characters were tough to keep track of, but I didn’t really have a problem with that.  My issue was that most of the characters sounded the same, and the author seemed to use verb tense changes and 1st and 3rd person variations to make the chapters feel different.  Unless there was a deeper reason for these variations (which I didn’t get to), it seems like cheating.

But one star?  One star seems harsh.  From what I’ve read, Into the Water wasn’t that bad.  I’m not even sure it was bad at all.  It wasn’t my style of book, but I wouldn’t give what I’ve read a one-star.  A book has to be truly crappy material for me to give it one star (even though I don’t use that system).

Then again, a lot of raters give five stars to books that might not deserve them, so maybe the one-star is meant to strategically negate the five-star that somebody else left.  I understand that logic, but if I rated books, I’d want my rating to reflect what I thought, not to negate somebody else’s rating.

Or maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe those raters truly hated this book.

I usually feel bad for authors who get bad reviews.  It’s tough to see your writing get criticized.  I’ve been in some brutal writing groups (before the internet and blogging existed) where writers left in tears because of harsh criticism.  I never caused any of those tears because I was gentle with the criticism, but I was on the receiving end of brutal critiques.  I never cried, but I almost got into a couple fist fights over some brutal comments about my writing (that’s for another blog post).

I don’t feel bad for Paula Hawkins though.  She’s probably made a lot of money from these two books.  Maybe she’ll use the criticism to write better books.  Or maybe she’ll sip wine and shrug it off.  I’m pretty sure she won’t get into any fist fights over it.


What do you think?  What rating do you think Into the Water deserves?  Do you think one-star and five-star ratings on Amazon are overused?

  1. Total agreement with you! Great post.

  2. I am not even tempted to pick up Into the Water because I couldn’t get through Girl on a Train. I didn’t like the writing style and it was super boring, to me.
    As for amazon….there are a lot of things that bother me about Amazon, the rating system wouldn’t even make the top five. LOL

  3. I don’t rate books in terms of what they “deserve,” I rate them by how much I personally liked them. A book can have all the technical skill and craft in the world, but what I want to know from a review is, “Did you ENJOY it?” So I rate my books by how I feel in my guts about them. And yeah, I’ll give 5 stars to something that might never be considered a masterpiece, so long as *I* loved it.

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