Stay Out of the Water: A Review of Winter Water by Susanne Jansson
Hello, Book Nerds! Happy November, and welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life. Or if you're new, hi, I'm so glad you came. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcase.
I have a special treat for you all today. Today's review is brought to you by Novel Suspects Insiders Club; they aren’t paying me for my review, they just sent me the book for free. Thank you so much to them and Grand Central Publishing for sending me an ARC of today’s book. It means a lot to me that they send little ol’ me some new releases.
Now let’s crack into it! Today’s review is on Winter Water by Susanne Jansson and translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Winter Water is set to release December 7, 2021 so keep your eyes peeled if this one interests you.
I enjoyed this book. Out of the few titles I’ve received curtesy of the Novel Suspects Insiders Club, this one is definitely my favorite thus far. It has a heartbreaking mystery, a journey through stages of grief, a plethora of ocean imagery, and dare I say, a paranormal entity that’s somehow involved in this mystery?!
Before I get to the full synopsis, a spoiler alert is in order. I also must issue a content warning, Winter Water deals with the death of a young child and has mentions of child endangerment. There is also one scene of animal cruelty that made me bawl like a baby. Just be aware of these things before going in.
Synopsis time now. Winter Water follows a man by the name of Martin. He and his wife, Alexandria, just had their second child and are excited to raise their growing family. The family of four lives in the idyllic island village of Orust, Sweden right near the sea. But this cozy sea-side life is crushed one chilly January morning.
Martin and his three-year-old son Adam are heading down to the coast to watch the sea and have a picnic. But on the way out of the house, Martin is distracted by the telephone ringing and ends up leaving Adam alone on the front porch for a minute or two. The worst fear any parents has comes true in that short amount of time. When Martin hangs up, Adam is nowhere to be found. The only sign of his son is the little red bucket he was holding that now bobs in the waves of the ocean. While Adam’s body is never discovered, everyone in the sea-side town believes the little boy suffered a horrible, tragic accident and ultimately drowned.
It’s just so sad. The whole book is just a big ol' cry fest. But while in one of the stages of grief, Martin, with the help of his friend Maya, learn about other tragedies. Other tragedies that bear a striking resemblance to Adam’s. We’re talking tragedies that occurred in the same location on the same day decades apart. In order to find closure, Martin begins investigating these other deaths. And in doing so, comes to the idea that there may be something more behind what happened to Adam.
I would never pick this book out for myself. This is not something I would gravitate towards in a bookstore, but I really enjoyed it. Like the whole thing is super upsetting, but I was engrossed in it.
This is a slow burn of a thriller. I feel like I shouldn’t even classify Winter Water as one. Sure, it has the unreliable narrator, the red-herrings, the plot twists, I can even say that it ends on a cliffhanger, but I don’t feel that it has the same energy as other thriller novels. I find thrillers tend to be much more action packed with some high stakes, but Winter Water isn’t like that. It comes across much more like a family drama with a mystery thrown in.
Honestly, call it a retrospective on the stages of grief; that’s what it is. This novel’s main focus is on the grieving father. This is Martin’s story of overcoming grief, rediscovering himself, and finding some light in life again. The mystery of this book really takes a backseat.
I’m totally fine with that though. Although I do have to say, I probably wouldn’t be happy about that if I paid money for the book expecting a thriller and ending up with a drama instead. The official synopsis reads as if this will be a supernatural-esque mystery, but in reality, the book is as far from that as possible. Like I said, this is a retrospective on the stages of grief. And the mystery? It takes about two-thirds of the novel to get there.
Seriously, for the majority of the book there isn’t any mystery present. I don’t even know what there is supposed to be a mystery of if I’m being quite honest. There are pretty much no clues pointing to any outcome other that Adam tragically died. The only “clue,” if I can even call it that, is the fact that his body is never discovered. I guess if I was a parent, I too would want to hold out hope that my child isn’t actually dead if a body is never recovered. But this child supposedly drowned in the ocean, and the ocean can easily take any trace of a body away. That being said, our main character doesn’t act on this “clue.” We’re just stuck in the stages of grief for roughly 250 pages. A well done 250 page, but I digress.
I think this book should either be labeled as something other than a thriller or it should have more of a mystery to it. The writing is lovely. There is some beautiful ocean imagery with dark undertones that make this story so haunting, but the mystery plot is not this book’s strong point. When the mystery actually happens, the story is good and really moves the plot forward. The villain is another heartbreaking character with a backstory that will leave you in tears, but they don’t play a role until the last fifty pages. Something needs to change.
And this is not even mentioning the supernatural element that is thrown in there too. The ocean is a dark beauty. There are countless myths, legends, and folktales that revolve around it. There are stories that warn of the dangers it possesses and cautionary tales of what could happen if one is not careful around the sea. The ocean can add so much to this story, and I feel that Susanne Jansson really attempts to make it a full on character in this book. And it could have worked.
Jansson really attempted to personify the ocean. She really tried to make it a siren or other similar supernatural entity, but it feels like she forgot about it and then picked it back up when it was necessary. As a fan of the supernatural, this could have been the best part of the book for me. You can’t argue with me that the sea lends itself so well to the supernatural. As it stands though, it doesn't work.
Yet despite all of this, I was fully engrossed in this story. Every page broke my heart, and that’s what makes this book good. Susanne Jansson captured the suffering, despair, anger, longing, anguish, and misery of the characters so well. What the characters are going through is so strongly detailed that the emotions leap off the page. Apparently, I just love being in pain.
Overall, I enjoyed this read. It’s far from what I normally pick up, and I love it for that. If the marketing was done differently, I think Winter Water could be elevated. Say it with me, y’all: this is a retrospective on the stages of grief with a mystery thrown in. If you go in knowing that, this book becomes much more enjoyable.
And on that note, I must bid you all adieu. So until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and read some good books for me.