The Complications of a Complex Character

Forgive me for that title, but I love alliteration. It’s a weakness.

Also, **Spoiler Alert**, I’m discussing Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, with a little bit of Girl on the Train sprinkled in for good measure. If you want to read either of those books and haven’t, do NOT proceed.


So, I’ve noticed that people either love or hate Paula Hawkins. Personally, I’m in the like/love category. Believe me, I felt pretty sheepish when I read and enjoyed Girl on the Train and then endured review after review after review of people calling it the worst book of the year… or ever…

Um, clearly it wasn’t the absolute worst since it sold so many copies and was made into a movie… But, ahem, I digress…

Now, I suspect Into the Water will be just as divisive. And, here’s why… Paula Hawkins doesn’t have any heroes in her books. You certainly have protagonists and antagonists, but they’re a bit icky.

Case in point: In Girl on the Train (Warning: More Spoilers), your main gal is Rachel Watson. You sympathize with her. You want her to be okay. But… hey… she’s also a raging alcoholic, part-time stalker, almost kidnapper, very emotionally disturbed, sleeps with the victim’s grieving (and also super weird and gross) spouse… And, you’re just thinking Pull it TOGETHER, Rachel! Good grief! Enough is enough!

You’ll find much of the same in Into the Water.

Case in point: Main gal Lena. She’s lost her best friend and mother. She’s absolutely broken. You just feel for her! But, oh hey… she flirts with her teachers for the joy of making them uncomfortable… does drugs and drinks… she is SUPER rude to just about everyone… Oh, yeah… and she might be a murderer.

She’s hard to love.

But, that’s the thing. That’s why I really like Paula Hawkins. Because, in real life, people are sometimes hard to love. And, they can make the worst possible decisions. And, they are gross and unlovable and complex. And, you can respect them and hate them all at once.

Yes, it’s nice to read books with clear cut lines of allegiance. I do love an underdog story. Who doesn’t love a hero who perseveres despite terrible odds? Those books are amazing! And, real life heroes DO exist. I know that they do!

Real life heroes can also fall, make mistakes and let the world down. Because real life heroes are real life humans.

Like… Remember Lance Armstrong, who was this amazing athlete who accomplished so much after battling cancer? We all LOVED Lance Armstrong! He was great! We all wore his Live Strong yellow wristbands! He was on magazine covers and could basically conquer the world.

But, writers like Paula Hawkins aren’t afraid to remind you that ol’ Lance turned out to be a cheater, among other things…

Does that negate everything he did that was great? Does that take away his prestige or accomplishments?

Well, maybe.

But, is he an evil mastermind?

I doubt it.

That’s why I love Paula Hawkins. In her books, she isn’t afraid to tell the truth about the Lance Armstrong’s of the world. She has no trouble reminding you of the grittier side of humanity – the disappointments and the idiocy and the messy mistakes.

If you need a hero, these aren’t your books.

But, if you need a reminder that life isn’t so black and white, maybe they are.

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