My Trips in 2018: Paris

I swear these posts are always going to start with an apology note because I take months to actually publish something on here, and for that I’m sorry… Life actually did get in the way this time, but I’m hoping things are on the up now, including this blog!

Anyway, although I will definitely keep posting book reviews I thought I’d break it up a bit and start writing about my trips away this year, starting with Paris. You’ll be glad to know this means a few more pictures in between the long paragraphs!

My boyfriend and I have always booked a weekend away at the end of January/beginning of February to celebrate each year we’ve been together – this year was our sixth, and we decided we’d go to Paris. My boyfriend had visited the city before but was very young at the time and couldn’t remember much, and I’d been to Disneyland but not to the capital, so this felt like a good time to go.

The Hotel:
I’d already heard that Paris was expensive to visit, and I had to trowel through hundreds of hotels over our budget before spotting the perfect one on Lastminute.com – Hotel Pastel Paris. The hotel had recently been renovated and though I was only able to read a few reviews because of this, all were positive so I was really excited about staying there.

Hotel-Pastel-Paris-Door-NumberLike the hotel’s name, all the rooms are decorated in pastel and overall the feel is vintage Parisian. One of my favourite touches were the Chanel-esque perfume bottles indicating the room numbers on each door.

The building itself is quite compact – the entrance to the lobby/reception area has no porch and the breakfast room could only hold just over half a dozen two-seater tables, however this did give the place an intimate and homely feel which I liked. (See below right for picture of the lobby). The rooms are equally as small but really cute. Our double bed was annoyingly comfy – we could have stayed there much longer every morning but we had so much to see!

We didn’t struggle with wardrobe space as we were only staying for a few days and folded most of our winter clothes anyway. If you like privacy, though, you might want to keep your underwear in your suitcase..! As you can see from the photo on the left below, there were no doors on the wardrobe and storage spaces, but again this didn’t bother us. My only criticism with our room was the shower – I’m tiny as it is and I struggled for elbow space in the shower!

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The location of the hotel was perfect – only a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées but nicely tucked down a side street to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep! The staff were also lovely and helpful with directions and advice on transport links. I didn’t find out who runs their Instagram but after I’d posted a picture of our room, (the one on the right), and tagged the location, they kindly asked if they could feature it on their account. Of course I was happy to oblige, and they even tagged me in it which was thoughtful – you can see their post here.

Now on to what we crammed into our 4 days of being tourists…

Day 1:
We arrived at the hotel around 10am after navigating our way via the metro from near Gare du Nord, quickly unpacked then went exploring.

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Surrounding the Arc de Triomphe is the craziest roundabout I’ve ever seen, the Étoile. I don’t understand how we didn’t see anyone crash because you have to give way to everyone entering the roundabout, and I think around 12 different roads lead to that roundabout? Baffling. Luckily, you access the Arc de Triomphe via stairs underneath the chaos.

 

 

Once there, we saw the tomb of the unknown soldier and its eternal flame, but didn’t manage to go to the top of the structure as it was quite packed. We decided to return later or in the next couple of days. All the same, the symmetry of the architecture was beautiful to admire.

We then strolled along the Champs-Élysées – take some serious money if you want to treat yourself in the shops on this avenue! We looked in Louis Vuitton for a laugh and felt very out of place… I was afraid to touch anything! Although the bags in their ‘Masters’ collaboration with Jeff Koons looked stunning (not sure on the promo film of it though…! Have a watch if you want). We also saw what we thought was the entrance to some grand mansion, and followed the stony pathway round to find the entrance to an Abercrombie & Fitch! Check out their doorway below… (did slightly remind me of the Jack Wills in Chichester).

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After lunch, our next stop was the Eiffel Tower! This Friday was a particularly windy one, so unfortunately the top floor to the tower was closed and we could only venture to the 2nd floor. I say unfortunately… I’m not sure I would have loved being at the top so much as the 2nd floor felt high enough to me! I’m glad there were lifts to take us up.

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Although it wasn’t the clearest day it was still amazing to see panoramic views of the city (which also helped us get our bearings). It was good to learn some information about the Eiffel and its construction as I didn’t really know much before. There were also videos showing how the structure is maintained – every 7 years loads of VERY brave people abseil down and across and hang at all sorts of terrifying angles in order give the iron tower a fresh coat of paint.

After watching what we could see of the sunset from the café on the 1st floor, we headed back down to watch the tower light up and glitter. Magical.

Paris-Eiffel-Lit-Up

Day 2:
After breakfast at the hotel, we got an Uber to the Louvre. This was a rainy day so we were glad to have planned an indoor visit. Thankfully we didn’t queue too long for entry. First we learned a bit about the Louvre itself. I never knew it was originally a fortress, and it was great to see some remains of the old building, to sense how important this place was to French history even before it became a museum.

Paris-Louvre

We then moved through to the Egyptian Antiquities, royal collection and Greek Antiquities sections before stopping for lunch and resting our feet in one of the cafés. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of food quality but I enjoyed the huge slice of veggie pizza I ordered – plenty of cheese, pesto, and even potatoes! Carbs upon carbs, mmm.

After realising that we wouldn’t have time to see everything we wanted in the Louvre, (it really is HUGE), we decided to head straight to the main attraction – the Mona Lisa, of course. On the way, we passed the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is spectacularly displayed at the top of the first floor staircase. We could tell without looking at our museum map which room the Mona Lisa was in. We had to wait for some of the crowd to disperse before we could move nearer. A glimpse is all you can really get of the Mona Lisa, as the distance between the front of the viewing barrier and the painting’s glass protection is quite far, considering how small Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece actually is (if it is the real deal)! Here’s me looking a little unimpressed after battling my way through the mass of selfie sticks:

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Still, at least I can say I’ve seen her in real life now! After this, we looked at some American and English paintings and when we left we strolled around the Louvre‘s grounds and the Roue de Paris which is a big mobile Ferris wheel. We didn’t go on it but it was very photogenic in the evening light:

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After dinner, we had a much needed nap then got ready for our late night entertainment at the Moulin Rouge! This was a belated anniversary gift from my boyfriend. We wanted to see the show and had been recommended it, but when I looked at ticket prices initially we decided against it because most showings including dinner and drinks cost more than our hotel and travel combined! However a couple of weeks prior to our trip I found out Jamie had booked it! It was meant to be surprise but he’s not great at being secretive…

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We got our second Uber of the day to Montmarte because the walk would have been too long and it was still raining. Plus, our showing was at 11pm so we didn’t want to tire ourselves out before we’d even arrived! We went straight into the theatre but if you wanted to get there earlier there are plenty of restaurants and bars amongst the bright neon lights of sex shops and strip clubs illuminating the Boulevard de Clichy.

 

 

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Once inside the theatre we did have to queue for a while but this was expected. The staff were helpful and when we finally got to our seats we weren’t disappointed. We were just a few tables away from the front of the stage, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that we were accompanied at our table by other couples from the UK so that just shows how well-planned and thoughtful the staff were. Before the show started we spoke to a couple from Leeds in between sips (glugs) of our champagne, (the bottle was included in the price of the tickets). The ambiance was perfect – low lighting and vintage Parisian decor around us and then dazzling bright lights on stage.

The Féerie show was absolutely amazing. The set pieces and costumes were incredible. Yes, the costumes are ‘revealing’ but if you’re worried about the show being overtly sexual then think again – the show caters for everyone and allows children from the age of 6 into the venue if accompanied by an adult. I knew to expect singing and dancing but there were also some wonderful surprises included in the performance. The cast clearly love what they do and that radiated through to us.

I can’t share any pictures of the show as no photography was allowed and rightly so – iPhone pictures wouldn’t do it justice and it was great just to immerse ourselves in the show. If you can save up, definitely book tickets! It makes a change from the normal touristy activities of looking at buildings and monuments (much as I love that). It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Now for another one of my highlights…

Day 3:
We had a bit of a lay-in due to our late finish the previous night, so we grabbed some pastries from a nearby boulangerie and hopped on the metro, then the train to The Palace of Versailles! When we booked our trip I discovered that the journey to Versailles from our hotel was around an hour, so we decided to make a day of our visit and I’m so glad we did.

The walk from the train station to the palace took around 15-20 minutes and it was pretty much a straight line so there was no way for us to get lost (my sense of direction is usually awful). We greeted Louis XIV’s statue and arrived at the golden gates around 11am. We received audio guides for free, and entry was also free to everyone as it was the first Sunday of the month (see their website for free entry eligibilities).

Paris-Versailles-Chapel

Prior to going, my only knowledge of the palace’s history came from the BBC One drama Versailles and the factual after-show Inside Versailles (which sadly they’ve stopped doing for the third series). The audio guides really helped expand on what I already knew as well as teaching me more. My boyfriend didn’t know anything about it so he found it really handy. There are numbered audioguide options for each room you pass through. I won’t go into too much detail about the interior but the obvious ‘wow’ rooms were the chapel (above) and the Hall of Mirrors. You could imagine how much pride the Sun King took in showing his exclusive guests the ethereal creations within his palace. Top tip for when you go – remember to look up in every room to see the beautiful paintings!

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My other favourite aspects of the palace were the gardens and fountains. When we went outside the sun started to shine which felt miraculous after a misty, drizzly morning. The wind was still bitterly cold, but when we sat on the edge of the lake eating our baguettes, the sun warmed my face and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so serene, (may have to do with the fact I was stuffing my face with bread too – but you decide). I can imagine how gorgeous the gardens are in warmer weather and I’m thinking of taking a weekend off to have a picnic there this summer or next.

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We stayed exploring the gardens until closing time at 5:30pm. We reluctantly made our way back to the station, stopping off at an antique store on the way.

Paris-Versailles-Landscape

Day 4:
On our last day we woke up to snow! We had experienced all types of weather over our long weekend. Once again we got breakfast at the local boulangerie then headed to the Notre Dame. As we queued up to go inside the bells started chiming and so accompanied by the blizzard it all felt aptly gothic.

The inside of the cathedral is a wondrous sight. I’m not religious but it’s hard not to sense some sort of magnificence when you enter. We bought audio guides for €5 each and had a slow walk around, learning about the cathedral’s many pieces of iconography, as well as about the building’s long history of construction. There was no photography allowed inside however my boyfriend not so subtly took this beautiful picture below before he read sign properly…

Paris-Notre-Dam

After an hour or so we headed out to the snow flurry again to queue for the tower. Unlike inside, you have to book a time slot as understandably only small groups of people are allowed up at any one time. We had to hop about a bit in the 10 minutes’ wait to keep warm!

Paris-Notre-Dame-Gargoyle

There were a fair few stairs to climb. We had to wait in the shop, which was halfway up, before progressing to the tower, so I panicked knowing we’d have to ascend more narrow winding steps again. Ironic that a history lover has such a fear of old stone staircases! Anyway, one we were up and I’d caught my breath, the view wasn’t as spectacular as it would have been on a day with clear sky, but it was still great to see a small section of snow-covered Paris. I love the picture on the right that I took of one of the tower’s gargoyles.

Once we’d taken enough snowy pictures, we had the option of scaling more stairs to get to the very top of the tower but I passed on that as the steps looked slippery and even more narrow! I didn’t want to chance it…

When we were on safer ground again, we headed across the short bridge from the cathedral to what is now one of my favourite book shops in the world: Shakespeare and Company! My boyfriend found out about this place online. It’s an American company, opened in 1951 and later re-named in honour of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, owned and opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919.

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I could have stayed there all day! As you can see from the picture on the left, I was pretty comfortable. It was so warm and cosy inside, the perfect reading environment. They have a dedicated quiet reading room in memory of Sylvia Beach, and stools dotted about the rest of the two floors so you can sit down to read blurbs or beginnings of the books you may fancy taking home. There is a resident cat to keep you company, and a few quirky things such as a (working) typewriter and desk, and a pin board next to the cat’s bed where visitors can stick their thank-you notes – we added ours to the collection. And, of course, their Shakespeare section is wonderful. I picked up a little pocket book of sonnets to take home.

Before we went back to our hotel to pick up our bags, we went up the Arc de Triomphe to see the Champs-Élysées and of course the Eiffel Tower from above, all lit up. The perfect end to a wonderful trip!

Paris-Arc-de-Triomphe-view

 

To end, I thought I’d impart the slightest bit of knowledge, if you are travelling into Paris for the first time like I was!

Travel Tips:

Transport to Paris – We travelled via Eurostar from Ebbsfleet International, which took around 2 hours so super quick. Try to find companies online (like Lastminute) where your train is included in the price of your trip, as we found it worked out cheaper than booking the Eurostar separate to the hotel. Make sure you download the Eurostar app for easier check-in before your travel date.

Transport in Paris – As I mentioned, we used Uber for when it was raining or in the evenings for simplicity, but the Metros are as easy to navigate as London tubes, and if you don’t know there are always staff at the kiosks who may be able to help. We thought there would be closures at many underground stations, because at the time we went the Seine was flooding and no boats were in operation, but thankfully we didn’t encounter closures on the lines we used! A few of the stations were dotted with large puddles but unlike in England, the people of Paris didn’t seem to worry and just got on with it!

We only travelled by overground train once (excluding Eurostar), to Versailles, but that was easy enough to catch. Live train times are available online, if you have roaming on your devices. The train we went on had two floors, so like excited kids we naturally sat on the top floor!

Food & Drink – Breakfast: The breakfast at our hotel was a small buffet of pastries, yoghurt, fruit bowls, eggs and bacon along with fruit juices, tea and coffee. This cost €15 per person per day, hence why we only had breakfast here one morning out of four. Local bakeries were much cheaper – a drink and croissant or baguette cost around €7. I had a croissant without fail every day!

Lunch: Bakeries were also good for quick lunches but if you want to have a more relaxed lunch be prepared to pay extra. On our first day we made a mistake by going into Vapiano, an Italian chain we know from London which is usually quick service (you pay at the counter and the chefs cook your food in front of you), but every tourist in Paris clearly had the same idea as us and we queued for way too long! On our last day we went to a restaurant near the cathedral and had lighter versions of the menu’s main meals which cost us €18 each with two drinks but it was worth it.

Dinner: Apart from the Saturday when we went to a Hard Rock Cafe – a weird tradition of ours – we went to two reasonably priced local restaurants, a French and a Lebanese, both were delicious. We booked our tables online as we weren’t sure how busy the restaurants were going to be, and lucky we did because we found in both restaurants that this entitled us to a 30% discount off the price of our total bill! I’m really not sure if this is a general thing across Paris but if the restaurant you want to go to has a website, it’s worth a try booking in advance. The wines we tried were really good –  a decent bottle was around €25 and obviously the prices went up depending on the type and quality!

Planning ahead: This is mainly concerning entry fees – out of all the places we went to, the only entries we paid for were the Eiffel Tower, (though they offer discounted entry for under 25s), and obviously the Moulin Rouge. We got in free everywhere else due to being 1) under 26 and/or 2) EU citizens (for now!) The only last thing I’ll say is make sure you check opening times of the places you want to go to, in case you get caught out like I did! I wanted to spend our last few hours in Paris in the Musée d’Orsay, but when I went on their website on our last day, which was a Monday, I discovered that the museum is closed on Mondays! Oh well. That’s just another excuse for me to re-visit the beautiful city of lights/love/whatever you want to call it – I think it’s both and more.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Why every history lover should pick up The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England

Welcome back!
Thanks to everyone who read my first post, and for all the lovely encouraging comments 🙂 Sorry for the long break in between posts, I’m still apprehensive about posting anything unless I’ve edited it to the death but hopefully I’ll stop worrying so much soon.

Anyway, this post is dedicated to:

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England – Ian Mortimer [London: Vintage, 2013]

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This may have been the most fun I’ve ever had reading. Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that over the past couple of years I’ve become a bit obsessed with learning about history, particularly the Elizabethan period. And that’s not only because of my steadily-growing appreciation for Shakespeare, (believe it or not I wasn’t so keen on the Bard at school, but how things change).

Mortimer’s book kept grabbing my eye in various bookshops in Chichester last year but once again I held off buying due to it only being available in hardback (this was when I was a student with little to no money and a dissertation to write, may I remind you). It was only when I’d begun to forget about it that I visited Rochester in November and found it in one of the many charity shops there for £1 in paperback. Bargain!

This was the first non-fiction book I’d genuinely been excited about buying. Before, the only reason I’d open a non-fiction book was because I knew it would count towards supporting an essay at uni. However, The Time Traveller’s Guide is not the kind of standard historical non-fiction I’m familiar with.

Instead of presenting you with some basic facts, and hinting at what Elizabethan life might have been like, Mortimer immediately places you in the 16th century.  Using the present tense, he transports you around the country and offers various insights on ways of life for each social class, appropriate to different time periods during the century. In one short paragraph, Mortimer allows you to experience the lifestyle of both aristocrat and peasant. You are informed of what to eat; how to speak depending on who you’re talking to; what to wear, whether practical or fashionable; what recreational entertainment is available nearby; how to build your house or make alterations to it depending on your income and location… The lists are endlessly informative and entertaining, and I learned a great deal of unique information that I never even realised was missing from conventional history books. For example, Mortimer details some sensible and some insane home-made remedies for curing ailments and making cosmetics; the best methods of cleaning and whitening fabrics; terms and codes of the criminal underworld; and the varying rules of early football.

Aside from the quirky facts, Mortimer also dispels common misconceptions of the era, clichés that have been reinforced over the years by film and television adaptations. For instance, Mortimer discusses how conscious Elizabethans actually were about personal hygiene, even though he explains that the word ‘washing’ held a slightly different meaning back then. I won’t spoil it for you. You may not think it sounds fun now, but it’s actually surprisingly interesting.

The sheer amount of research that must have gone into this book is something to marvel at. I thought initially that visualising the reality of nearly 500 years ago would prove difficult, but the clarity of Mortimer’s writing is astounding. Every piece of information is supported by examples from historical records. Mortimer gives names of real people and real events, and will refer back to some of them numerous times throughout the novel so you become more acutely aware of societal and regional contrasts. This awareness comes with emotional responses, and not every detail Mortimer offers is enjoyable or amusing. Reading about the destitute occupants of ‘Shipdams’ in a Norwich parish: some disabled, some abandoned with many children, who must either knit or beg all day because they receive no alms, and then later reading a passage in the ‘Women’s Clothing’ section from ‘Lady Ri-Melaine’ (pg.162) rudely demanding all sorts of unnecessary wardrobe changes from her servant inspires anger about the extreme injustice between both ends of the social scale. It is even still depressing to realise that Lady Ri-Melaine only possesses her frivolous lifestyle because of her husband’s wealth. She is lucky, unlike ‘Helen, the wife of John Williams… heavily pregnant, about to give birth, and cannot work. Her husband has disappeared off to Cambridge and left her with no money.’ (pg. 58) No additional detail is required; it is clear how dangerous a situation like this is to an Elizabethan woman. Mortimer effectively highlights women’s oppression and some of their achievements despite it respectively, which resonate with ongoing conversations about feminism in the current day.

Mortimer’s afterword is the perfect summary of his intentions with this book: that although many aspects of Elizabethan life were wildly different, (and considerably more violent), compared to now, the Elizabethan era was not just some curious time period isolated from our idea of the ‘real world’. The people Mortimer presents to us are our ancestors, people who shaped our world in some way, whether they were conscious of it or not. Mortimer’s final word turns our attention to the arts, those marvellous pieces of work from Elizabethan England that have conquered time itself and which we always return to because they act as connections to our shared humanity. I think The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England will live on in the same way for me, as I hope it will for many other history lovers. I’m grateful to Ian Mortimer for offering such an immersive reading experience.

(Side note – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England existed before this book, and The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain was also published last year – so I’ve still got some catching up to do, more exciting and unusual things to learn, and I can’t wait!)

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve read this, or if I’ve convinced you to give it a go 🙂

See you in the next post!

Mysteries & Truths: My Favourite Reads from 2017

My first blog post is finally here! (After I proudly announced on Twitter that I would upload it THREE months ago… whoops.)

Seeing as we’ve recently waved goodbye to 2017 I thought I’d start things off with reviews of two books I most enjoyed reading last year. Considering the first half of my 2017 was spent reading texts on the curriculum of my final year university course, I still managed to get a fair bit of ‘leisurely reading’ done afterwards.

I adore books that surprise me and the following two did just that. There’s another book I would have loved to add to this post but I haven’t actually finished it yet, and I might just do a separate post on it because there will be quite a lot to say… But anyway, let’s get on. Without further ado…

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry  

[Synopsis from the blurb. London: The Serpent’s Tail, 2017.]

London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Retreating to the countryside with her son, she encounters rumours of the ‘Essex Serpent’, a creature of folklore said to have returned to roam the marshes.

Cora is enthralled, believing it may be an undiscovered species. Setting out on its trail, she collides with William Ransome, Aldwinter’s vicar, who thinks the cure for hysteria lies in faith, while Cora is convinced that science offers the answers. Despite disagreeing on everything, he and Cora find themselves drawn together, changing each other’s lives in unexpected ways…

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(Disclaimer: Yes, I know this book was published in 2016, but I only stumbled across it this year and I know people are still loving it so it deserves its place in my 2017 list!)

Even though this book was literally everywhere I looked by springtime this year, I was initially dubious about buying it and held off for a few months. I think the beautiful cover actually made me think that it would be more style than substance, a typical historical fiction attempting more than its author was capable of… Of course, I was completely wrong. Waterstones’ Book of the Year 2016 wouldn’t be like that. I judged a book by its cover again. Don’t do it, people.

The blurb states that this novel is ‘a celebration of love in all its incarnations’ and I was honestly astounded at how many representations of different kinds of love exist in every single character. William and Cora’s friendship is one of the most beautifully complex I think I’ve ever encountered in historical fiction. Their love is founded on their ability to intellectually stimulate one another despite their wild differences of opinion. Perry’s writing style is sophisticated and persuasive, aiding belief in such an innovative relationship between two characters who couldn’t be more contrasting. What I found most unique and endearing about the vicar and the widow is that they seem to find comfort rather than distress in their physical separation. When Cora says to William ”I like you better on paper” (181) she does not mean it in the way that the more modern expression would suggest. Cora and William write to one another frequently when apart, and it seems that on paper they can express more clarity of mind and better connect to one another, which I think is such a stunning homage to the power of the written word by Perry.

The serpent of the novel’s title, which was inspired by a 1669 pamphlet Perry came across, (click here to read more), is the undercurrent of every conflict the novel explores, from science to faith, to rumour to myth. Real or not, (no spoilers here), the idea of the serpent acts as a sort of malevolent force exerting its power over every inhabitant of Aldwinter, creating a frenzied unease which is most marvellously epitomised about halfway through the novel in a chapter involving a classroom full of hysterical schoolgirls. Within one short section Perry manages to encapsulate such a stunning, unnerving moment of mental instability. Seeping through every page of The Essex Serpent is Perry’s masterful utilisation of the Gothic style, and I couldn’t help noticing that Perry confronts the gruesome and strange with similar unashamed authorial voice to the great Hilary Mantel. The big ‘reveal’ of The Essex Serpent causes characters to confront a disturbing yet in some ways revelational reality.

You don’t have to like history to thoroughly enjoy this novel because Perry’s winning focal point is the complex hearts of her characters, and if you don’t love William and Cora’s love by the time you’ve finished reading, you need to start again. I can’t wait to read what comes next from Sarah Perry, but for now, I’m off to buy her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood.

 

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins

[Synopsis from the blurb.  London: Doubleday, 2017.]

In the last days before her death, Nel Abbott called her sister.

Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind.

But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…

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I finally got round to reading the famous The Girl on the Train in August. In true cliché fashion, I read it on the train to visit my friend. Annoyingly, I finished it at her house, (we did socialise, honest!) and so before I returned home I ran to the station’s W. H. Smith and saw Paula Hawkins’ new novel on the shelves, blue and hardback… and expensive. But, after looking at the mass of monotonous celebrity autobiographies and seeing that my train was due to leave in five minutes, I bought Into the Water. I’m glad I trusted my impulses because that was money well spent!

Like The Girl on the Train, Into the Water is structured, (in its four parts), in chapters by different characters. However this time there are considerably more perspectives to familiarise ourselves with – fourteen to be precise, including short historical accounts from other women who have encountered death the same way as Nel – by drowning in a natural pool in Hawkins’ fictional town of Beckford. Having so many characters to keep track of was confusing initially. I did have to keep flicking back to previous chapters to discern whether or not the character in the current section had been mentioned beforehand. Nevertheless, I think writers who make readers work for their fiction should be greatly admired because the results are always rewarding, and often novels like this warrant another read, (which surely is a writer’s dream?!)

Although Hawkins’ characters seem dispersed at the beginning, the uncovering of private relationships intrinsically link them to others, which enforces the underlying sense that ‘everyone knows everyone’ within Beckford’s community. Every character has a relevant part to play in heightening the scale of suspicion regarding Nel’s apparent suicide. Hawkins is able to utilise more layers of truth, misjudgment and lies here than she could in her previous novel. The complexity of the plot showcases Hawkins’ flair for using multiple narrative voices. The portrayal of Lena, Nel’s teenage daughter, is particularly poignant due to the raw anger and confusion she exudes throughout the investigation into her mother’s death. Hawkins’ explorations of childhood and adolescent trauma are essential to Into the Water‘s success.

The supernatural connotations that Beckford’s ‘Drowning Pool’ inspires are what sets this novel apart from typical crime dramas. When she is alive, Nel is obsessed with history of women submerging themselves in the pool and never returning for air. She can’t believe that her favourite place has been the location of such dark events. The untold motives of the women who died there drive her to seek answers from her research. She begins writing about the Drowning Pool, the incomplete prologue of which Hawkins includes near the beginning of Into the Water. Nel also converses with Nickie, whom most people in Beckford choose to ignore due to her self-proclaimed ability to interact with the dead. This, along with Nel’s discovery of the ‘swimming of witches‘ (38) that once took place at the Drowning Pool, creates the sense of something unearthly pulling Nel too dangerously close to the secrets of the unfortunate women’s deaths. The short chapters of accounts from the women Nel researches therefore act as powerful catalysts for developing intrigue, allowing Hawkins’ readers a limited yet exclusive insight into the disturbing female struggles that lead these women, including Nel herself, to this place of finality, but not necessarily of rest.

‘Some of the women left something of themselves in the water, some say it retains some of their power, for ever since then it has drawn to its shores the unlucky, the desperate, the unhappy, the lost. They come here to swim with their sisters.’ (38)

If you loved The Girl on the Train or not, invest some effort in Into the Water and enjoy trying to untangle the mysteries in between the weeds of its murky depths…

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my first post, congratulations if you made it to the end! I’ll try to make my future reviews more compact.

Please leave me a comment if you’ve read either of these books or if my reviews have maybe encouraged you to pick a copy up for yourself. See you in the next post!