Into the Water Summary & Study Guide

Paula Hawkins
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Into the Water Summary & Study Guide Description

Into the Water Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Hawkins, Paula. Into the Water. Toronto: Transworld Publishers, 2017.

Into the Water is a fiction story told in four parts, with no chapter headings. Each part is broken into several page mini vignettes from the perspective of various characters labeled in the beginning of the story. Some of the vignettes are told from the first person, and others are told from the third person perspective. For the purposes of this guide, the first three parts are split into two sections, as they are longer, and Part 4 is kept as one. The story centers around a small town called Beckford, England and mostly takes place in current time around the summer, fall, and winter of 2015. The story, however, also goes back in time to 1993, 1983, 1920, and 1679. Though various pieces of the story are told from each character’s perspective, the novel primarily speaks from Jules’ and Lena’s perspectives.

In Part 1, Section 1 (or the first 60 pages) the narrative voice switches 14 times. The reader hears the perspectives from the characters Jules, Lena, Josh, Louise, Mark, Nickie, Erin, and Nel (also called the drowning pool). Part 1, Section 1 begins with Jules' voice as she learns about her sister’s death. She travels back to Beckford to go to her childhood home, where she meets her niece Lena. Lena is angry and filled with grief and guilt, convinced her mother committed suicide. Jules goes to the hospital to ID her sister, where she notices her sister’s missing bracelet. Erin, one of the the detectives, asks Detective Sean Townsend about the missing bracelet and he denies finding one on the body. The section ends with Jules finding an engraved cigarette lighter with the initials “LS” in her sister’s room.

Woven throughout Jules, Erin, and Lena’s stories and interactions in this section are the perspectives of Mark Henderson, Josh Whittaker, Louise Whitaker, the Drowning Pool, and Nickie Sage. Josh is the second perspective told, and he notices his mother’s early morning return to the house to tell her family about Nel’s death. Mark and Louise meet at the riverbank and the reader learns of the death of Katie Whittaker (Louise’s daughter and Mark’s former student). Louise recounts her grief over losing her daughter and unanswered questions about her motives for suicide. Nickie Sage is introduced as a local psychic woman. The Drowning Pool is introduced as the novel Nel Abbott worked on before she died. It recounts the histories of all the women who had drowned in it.

Part 1, Section 2 mostly centers around Nel’s funeral, with flashbacks and stories from the past interspersed. Jules recounts the day in 1993 when she had thrown herself into the Drowning Pool. At the pool, Jules’ friends teased her as she realizes she has bled all over herself from her period. Later she describes how after she, Nel, and Robbie Cannon (Nel’s boyfriend) had returned home she got drunk alone in the kitchen, and Robbie approached her in the house and raped her. Afterwards she tried to drown herself in the pool, though her sister pulled her out. Jules also looks through Nels’ notes on the project she had been working on, finding next to the story about Lauren Townsend Nel’s handwritten comment: “Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women” (83).

Part 1, Section 2 also explores the perspectives of Patrick, Helen, and Sean Townsend. All three of them share vignettes as they prepare for the funeral. Patrick drowns a pregnant stray tabby that Helen had been taking care of, and Helen is upset. Sean runs into Nickie Sage who tells him his mother’s death was not from suicide. Sean is warned by Jules about Robbie, who Jules found in attendance at Nel’s funeral.

This section contains two important Drowning Pool stories - one from Libby Seeton and one from Lauren Townsend. Libby was a 14 year old who the town drowned in the pool in 1679 for being a witch, and for seducing a married man. Lauren Townsend was the wife of Patrick and mother of Sean, and The Drowning Pool tells the story of her general unhappiness and suicide by jumping into the Drowning Pool.

Part 2, Section 1 considers the various pieces of evidence found regarding Nel's death and takes a closer look at potential suspects. As Louise cleans out her daughter’s closet she thinks about the necklace her daughter wore when she died, a small bluebird inscribed “with love” (127). Lena gave the necklace to Katie, but Louise finds this suspicious. Louise also finds pills in her daughters’ pockets with Nel’s name on them and brings them to Sean Townsend.

Erin goes to Jules about the pills and Robbie, and Jules tells Erin it seems unlikely that Nel bought the pills. Erin then visits Mark and questions him about Lena and Katie’s relationship and the diet pills Katie took. Mark tells her no new information (though lies about his fiancee). After Erin leaves, Mark drives over to the school where he works, and walks into Helen Townsend’s office, where he finds and takes Nel’s bracelet. Erin heads over to the Whittaker’s house with Sean, and Louise confesses that she had purposefully damaged the camera next to the Drowning Pool after Katie’s death out of anger with Nel. Erin and Sean also confront Lena about the diet pills, and Lena confesses she had bought them for Katie with Nel’s credit card. The section ends with Helen Townsend thinking about her husband’s infidelity and about her insomnia after Katie’s death.

This section also includes two stories from the past - one about Jules and one from The Drowning Pool, this time about Katie Whittaker. Jules recounts the night Robbie raped her in 1993 and when she jumped into the Drowning Pool and her sister saved her. The Drowning Pool story details Katie’s walk from her house to the pool in 2015 and her descent into the water. The story does not reveal any motive, but simply recounts Katie’s sad decision.

Part 2, Section 2 reveals the truth about Katie and Mark’s illicit relationship. First Josh tells Sean, which then forces the truth out of Lena. Lena tells the police that Katie decided to kill herself to protect Mark and keep him out of prison. After Erin learns this news she talks to Helen Townsend about Mark and Katie’s relationship. Helen tells Erin she had no suspicions about any relationships but had reprimanded Lena in the past for her sexual harassment of Mark.

Louise confronts Lena about the illicit relationship between Katie and Mark. Louise also realizes that the necklace she wore around her neck that she thought was a gift from Lena to Katie was actually a gift from Mark to Katie and rips it off. Lena tells Louise that Katie killed herself because Lena threatened to tell the truth. After Louise leaves, Lena tells Jules it was actually her mother that threatened exposure of the relationship. Lena goes for a walk and Jules falls asleep. When Jules awakes, Lena is gone.

This section contains one story from The Drowning Pool and retells Anne Ward’s story in 1920. Anne Ward’s husband returned from World War I a changed man. He drank, abused, and raped Anne repeatedly. Anne waited until her husband fell asleep one night and put a knife in the back of his neck, killing him instantly. The Wards’ Cottage (the same cottage that Patrick takes care of) is named after the former couple.

Part 3, Section 1 starts with Mark returning home and as he steps into his house someone attacks him. Mark injures his hand in the attack and gets into his car driving off to Edinburgh. As he drives it becomes clear that Lena is in the trunk, and she was his attacker. Meanwhile, as Jules realizes Lena is missing, she also realizes that Robbie Cannon is, in fact, the father of Lena and decides to find and confront Robbie in case she is there. Robbie and Lena disagree about the past, and Jules tells him “You raped me” (233). Robbie rejects this, telling her he was responding to her desire of him. Jules asks him if Nel knew, and Robbie says that he had told Nel that he had just rejected her and that rejection caused Jules to run away. Jules leaves the garage, realizing she had been wrong about her sister all along, due to Robbie’s lies. Overwhelmed, Jules drives back to Beckford and sinks into the water.

The perspective switches to Erin as they pull Jules out of the river. The police now realize that both Lena and Mark Henderson are gone, and they find blood in Mark’s house. When Erin talks to Louise about Lena’s whereabouts, Louise suggests to Erin that Sean and Nel had an illicit relationship. Meanwhile Sean interrogates Mark’s ex-fiancee, asking her where Mark might be and she suggests her father’s old cottage on the coast. Finally, the last perspective of the section returns to Jules as she talks with Nickie Sage. Nickie tells Jules that Patrick had, in fact, killed Lauren his wife (she had not committed suicide). The section ends with another story from The Drowning Pool about Lauren that gives a very different angle on what happened the night of her alleged suicide.

Part 3, Section 2 begins with Sean as he drives to Howick to find Lena. He rehashes his affair with Nel, how his father had exposed their relationship, and how Nel had questioned the details of his mother’s death. Between Sean’s perspective, Hawkins switches twice to Lena back in Howick as she struggles with Mark. Mark has Nel’s bracelet and tells Lena that he found it in Helen Townsend’s office. Lena leaves him, putting on the bracelet, and runs away. Hawkins strongly suggests that Lena murdered Mark, though never states it outright. When she finally returns home to Jules, Lena shows her the bracelet saying “Mom didn’t leave me. She didn’t jump” (299).

The perspective switches back to Erin as she tries to figure out what happened between Sean and Nel. She walks into Patrick’s house and finds Helen. Helen admits that Sean and Nel had an affair. As they talk, Patrick walks in angrily, telling Helen about Erin’s affair with a female colleague; that Erin is in no position to question an officer’s professional conduct. Jules then enters the house and confronts Helen about Nel’s bracelet. Helen cannot explain the bracelet, and Patrick cuts her off saying, “I ripped it off that whore’s wrist before I threw her over” (326). The last perspective switches to Patrick as he goes to the station to confess the murders of Lauren and Nel.

Part 4 is the shortest part of the four of the novel, at only 18 pages long. All of the characters are moving on either by moving to a new town, going on vacation, or going to prison in Patrick’s case. Lena starts off this section talking about moving to London. Next, Josh mentions the possibility that Lena killed Mark by pushing him over the cliffs in Howick. Louise feels that though she can never forgive Lena, she does admit that Lena loved her daughter dearly. Nickie is going on vacation to Spain after receiving money from Nel’s will. Erin still has more questions about what happened, and her perspective finishes with her thought: “I never really saw all there was to see” (343).

Helen has moved to a town called “Pity Me” originally with Sean but one morning she wakes up and he is gone. Moving forward to January, Jules reflects on what it is like to be a parent to Lena. She notes that since her sister is dead and she cannot make amends with her, motherhood will have to suffice.

The last voice is Sean’s. His memories are still hazy, his father telling him most of it was a nightmare. At the age of 12 when Sean asked his father more, his father cut across his wrist with a knife to warn him never to mention his mother again, leaving a substantial scar. Sean recounts the night Nel had died. Nel insisted that they walk to the cliff to help Sean remember what happened to his mother. The novel ends with this closing thought from Sean: “with my hands in the small of Nel’s back, I pushed her away” (353). Sean as it turns out, was Nel’s killer all along.

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