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From the author of Apple Tree Yard comes a masterful thriller about espionage, love, and redemption. John Harper is in hiding in a remote hut on a tropical island. As he lies awake at night, listening to the rain on the roof, he believes his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of what hes already done. In a nearby town, he meets Rita, From the author of Apple Tree Yard comes a masterful thriller about espionage, love, and redemption. John Harper is in hiding in a remote hut on a tropical island. As he lies awake at night, listening to the rain on the roof, he believes his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of what he’s already done. In a nearby town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own tragic history. They begin an affair, but can they offer each other redemption? Or do the ghosts of the past always catch up with us in the end? Flashing back from late 1990s Indonesia to Cold War Europe, Harper’s childhood in civil rights-era California, and Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the subsequent military dictatorship, Black Water explores some of the darkest events of recent history through the story of one troubled man. In this gripping follow-up to Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty writes with the intelligence, vivid characterization, and moral ambiguity that make her fiction resonate in the reader’s mind long after the final page.


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From the author of Apple Tree Yard comes a masterful thriller about espionage, love, and redemption. John Harper is in hiding in a remote hut on a tropical island. As he lies awake at night, listening to the rain on the roof, he believes his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of what hes already done. In a nearby town, he meets Rita, From the author of Apple Tree Yard comes a masterful thriller about espionage, love, and redemption. John Harper is in hiding in a remote hut on a tropical island. As he lies awake at night, listening to the rain on the roof, he believes his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of what he’s already done. In a nearby town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own tragic history. They begin an affair, but can they offer each other redemption? Or do the ghosts of the past always catch up with us in the end? Flashing back from late 1990s Indonesia to Cold War Europe, Harper’s childhood in civil rights-era California, and Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the subsequent military dictatorship, Black Water explores some of the darkest events of recent history through the story of one troubled man. In this gripping follow-up to Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty writes with the intelligence, vivid characterization, and moral ambiguity that make her fiction resonate in the reader’s mind long after the final page.

30 review for Black Water

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "How did anybody stay alive? No wonder the country is falling apart... when rice is expensive, human beings are cheap." I was expecting this novel to be more of a thriller, based on the description and the cover, but it is more slow moving than that. John Harper is introduced in 1998, at the end of a career as a contract worker for an agency working with the government in Bali. Some past misdeeds are hinted at, but it is only in going back to 1942 that the reader finds out more about the story. "How did anybody stay alive? No wonder the country is falling apart... when rice is expensive, human beings are cheap." I was expecting this novel to be more of a thriller, based on the description and the cover, but it is more slow moving than that. John Harper is introduced in 1998, at the end of a career as a contract worker for an agency working with the government in Bali. Some past misdeeds are hinted at, but it is only in going back to 1942 that the reader finds out more about the story. It is more about guilt and blame and survival. +1 star for an interesting location with a strong researched historical context. Harper himself is a mixed race Dutch-Indo man who lives for some time during difficult race times in Los Angeles with his white grandparents. From other Indonesian novels I've read, I understand more about this complex relationship between the Dutch, Indonesian, and mixed races during this era. The author really does get it right but while it's more there in the background than the focus of the novel, I really appreciated the accuracy. Thanks to the publisher for providing access through NetGalley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Villines

    We may like to think that happiness is only a matter of perspective, something that we can achieve with a deliberate twist of thought. But in truth, happiness becomes harder to achieve as we grow older. We go through life and we absorb the bad things that happen to us along the way. In our youth, we are able to pretend they never happened, in our middle-years, they continue to accumulate with notice, and by our senior years, the weight of all of them sits on our minds. Some may call this weight We may like to think that happiness is only a matter of perspective, something that we can achieve with a deliberate twist of thought. But in truth, happiness becomes harder to achieve as we grow older. We go through life and we absorb the bad things that happen to us along the way. In our youth, we are able to pretend they never happened, in our middle-years, they continue to accumulate with notice, and by our senior years, the weight of all of them sits on our minds. Some may call this weight wisdom, but in truth, it is simply the unavoidable reality of the world. Louise Doughty takes this reality and brings it to life within the span of a few hundred pages. The main character, John Harper, is the truth behind such fictional characters as Hemingway’s Robert Jordan or Jake Barnes; or Greene’s Henry Scobie; characters that we never really know. Doughty shows us that we cannot escape ourselves and she writes her imagery in layers composed of the tone of her words, the beauty of her setting, and the nature of humanity. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that was so perfectly written and so very real in its message.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie

    John Harper works as an operative for a black-ops operation. Its 1998 and hes staying in a hut in Indonesia in fear of his life. Hes made an error of judgment which most likely has made him a liability to his employer and unfortunately, John is all too familiar with how his employer deals with failures. John has plenty of time to remember his disastrous 1965 Indonesian tour. He obviously has serious regrets about some of his past actions and struggles with his memories. When he meets Rita, John Harper works as an operative for a black-ops operation. It’s 1998 and he’s staying in a hut in Indonesia in fear of his life. He’s made an error of judgment which most likely has made him a liability to his employer and unfortunately, John is all too familiar with how his employer deals with failures. John has plenty of time to remember his disastrous 1965 Indonesian tour. He obviously has serious regrets about some of his past actions and struggles with his memories. When he meets Rita, another damaged soul, he shares some of his past with her but she knows he hasn’t told her everything. The book bounces back and forth between 1998 and 1965 and when John was a child. John is the son of an Indonesian soldier who the Japanese beheaded and an alcoholic Dutch woman. The happiest time of his life are the years spent with Poppa and Nina and his little half-brother Bud. The author masterfully fleshes out John’s character and shows how his childhood has led him to where he is today. His path has been a long, hard one and I longed for John to find redemption and love. I literally had trouble breathing during the last few pages of this book. I picked this book based on the author alone since I thought “Apple Tree Yard” was an amazing book. I hardly glanced at what the book was about. When I started to read it, I thought I might have made a mistake as it obviously was an espionage book, much like Graham Greene would write, and I’m not particularly fond of that type of book. But the author’s characterization makes her new book an excellent read and one that I highly recommend. It’s thrilling, it’s heart wrenching and it’s powerful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ceecee

    I thought Appletree Yard was brilliant and Im pleased to say I thought this book was also outstanding. Its a totally different kind of book which if you are looking for a book of a similar genre you may be disappointed. I wasnt, as I found the period of time and the places featured absolutely fascinating. John Harper or Nicolaas is half Dutch half Indonesian. The book is set in Java, Bali, the USA and Holland. Harper worked for the Institute of International Economics - a consultation agency I thought Appletree Yard was brilliant and I’m pleased to say I thought this book was also outstanding. It’s a totally different kind of book which if you are looking for a book of a similar genre you may be disappointed. I wasn’t, as I found the period of time and the places featured absolutely fascinating. John Harper or Nicolaas is half Dutch half Indonesian. The book is set in Java, Bali, the USA and Holland. Harper worked for the Institute of International Economics - a consultation agency that worked in difficult areas for clients such as oil companies assessing risk and advising on them. The book takes us on a journey through Harper’s difficult life from his birth in Indonesia in a Japanese internment camp to his young years in Los Angeles with Poppa and Nina, his return to Holland to his alcoholic mother and then charts his career in Indonesia. I found this part particularly fascinating. I can just about remember the troubles in Indonesia with the rise of communism and its suppression under the rule of Sueharto but I knew very little about the violence that this region and its people endured. I won’t spoil the book by writing of the things that Harper has to do in order to save his own skin in Java in the mid 60’s nor how he messes up when he returns to Jakarta in 1998 which saw economic collapse followed by the fall of the Soeharto regime. A brilliant novel which is extremely well written. I loved it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adrian White

    I guess like a lot of other readers, I came to this on the back of the author's fantastic book Apple Tree Yard but this is a different beast entirely - not necessarily a bad thing but for me it didn't quite work. I'd describe it as sub-Graham Greene and it wasn't sufficiently engaging to finish reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cphe

    An author that I've not read before but will be reading again in the near future. Really enjoyed this story. John Harper is an "economic analyst" who has worked for the shadowy "Institute" for most of his adult life. The novel opens with his withdrawal to a hut on a Balinese mountain awaiting execution for past mistakes. Harper himself is a fascinating, finely drawn character, a man torn by guilt and looking for closure, redemption. If you're looking for an action packed thriller, you'll be An author that I've not read before but will be reading again in the near future. Really enjoyed this story. John Harper is an "economic analyst" who has worked for the shadowy "Institute" for most of his adult life. The novel opens with his withdrawal to a hut on a Balinese mountain awaiting execution for past mistakes. Harper himself is a fascinating, finely drawn character, a man torn by guilt and looking for closure, redemption. If you're looking for an action packed thriller, you'll be disappointed in this novel. That's not to say that this one doesn't pack an emotional wallop, it does. I found myself thinking about this well after I'd finished. The ending is somewhat ambiguous but in a strange way it compliments the novel overall. The delivery is slower paced but suited the story and the characters. Could feel the heat, humidity and the lushness of the setting. Thought the relationship between Harper and Rita very well done and believable. Two damaged souls each looking for acceptance and peace. Exceeded my reading expectations and worthy of the high rating.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Claire Fuller

    I really enjoyed this - the eighth novel from Louise Doughty. It is very different from Apple Tree Yard, which was no problem for me, but readers who loved that and come looking for something similar might be disappointed, but I'd still urge them to read it. It's a quiet book despite the horrors it contains. There's something gentle about it and the way it's written. It's about Nicolaas who starts a relationship with Rita (so refreshing to meet a woman who is large-ish, confident and likable), I really enjoyed this - the eighth novel from Louise Doughty. It is very different from Apple Tree Yard, which was no problem for me, but readers who loved that and come looking for something similar might be disappointed, but I'd still urge them to read it. It's a quiet book despite the horrors it contains. There's something gentle about it and the way it's written. It's about Nicolaas who starts a relationship with Rita (so refreshing to meet a woman who is large-ish, confident and likable), but can't settle. He wants in and then wants out. And gradually we learn about the things in his life which have made him who he is.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janel

    I cant recall a time Ive read a book that brought such a calmness over me, in the sense that I was fully captivated by this story, it felt so personal, raw in its delivery. Told in three parts; part one and three are set in 1998, Harper, on enforced leave after a grave error of judgement, finds himself at a crossroads, haunted by the past, daring to believe he might have a future. Part 2 details Harpers life from 1942-65, sharing his childhood and his time working as a government operative. I can’t recall a time I’ve read a book that brought such a calmness over me, in the sense that I was fully captivated by this story, it felt so personal, raw in its delivery. Told in three parts; part one and three are set in 1998, Harper, on enforced leave after a grave error of judgement, finds himself at a crossroads, haunted by the past, daring to believe he might have a future. Part 2 details Harper’s life from 1942-65, sharing his childhood and his time working as a government operative. While this is a political novel focusing on the instability of Indonesia and war on the communists during this time, it is also so much more than that. It’s an in-depth character study, Harper’s journey to redemption and the possiblity of love. “You can’t run from the sadness inside you all your life, Nicolaas. Don’t you realise you just take it with you?” Your past is never far behind you and it will eventually catch up with you. And when it does, can you face what you’ve done or will it destroy you? Never in-your-face action but an intensely personal story, in which you really get to know Harper. I can’t explain the exact feeling that this book evoked in me, it was like a dark, calm, sadness washed over me, and it was just me, Harper and our thoughts. Doughty has also weaved a suspenseful undercurrent into this story, the more you read, the more you hope the rain doesn’t fall because you’re not sure Harper can survive the rain, the weather is so unpredictable and it could change at any time, and if the weather changes, so could Harper’s fate (read this book and this will make perfect sense). Everything in this book is subtle, quiet with a beautiful sadness to it. A slow-burner that surprised me with its personal nature. The slow pace remains throughout, you don’t have to be a fan of political novels to enjoy this one, this story is character driven, driven by John Harper, you feel his desperation. Doughty has written a powerful story that moved me in a way I haven’t experienced before. *My thanks to Faber & Faber for providing me with a copy of this book*

  9. 5 out of 5

    iva°

    abandoned #56

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna Maria

    I must admit that I didn't entirely like "Black Water" by Louise Doughty, it wa slow tedious and boring for my tastes of reading. I wasn't sure about this at first, so I kept reading hoping that it would change, sorry I tried but I just couldn't get involved with it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    A very well done novel set around the 1965 anti-communist revolution in Indonesia which led to riots and civilian massacres as neighbors snitched and turned on neighbors to avoid their own deaths. Nicolaas Den Herder is a Dutch/Indonesian mercenary who works for the Institute. Nicolaas was born in Asia in a concentration camp and his father was beheaded by the Japanese. His Dutch mother, Anika, and Nicolaas make it to Los Angeles where Anika meets an African-America WWII soldier, Michael. They A very well done novel set around the 1965 anti-communist revolution in Indonesia which led to riots and civilian massacres as neighbors snitched and turned on neighbors to avoid their own deaths. Nicolaas Den Herder is a Dutch/Indonesian mercenary who works for the Institute. Nicolaas was born in Asia in a concentration camp and his father was beheaded by the Japanese. His Dutch mother, Anika, and Nicolaas make it to Los Angeles where Anika meets an African-America WWII soldier, Michael. They have a son, Joseph (Bud), who drowns when he is five. Something changes in Nicholaas's heart that day. An ice sets in and leads him to the cold hearted world of espionage and mercenary work. Nicolaas' name is changed to John Harper. He is able to confuse people on his identity as Dutch, American and Indonesian. On assignment in 1965, he realizes one of his missions is to deliver a list of 800 names which has been compiled by the Americans. The list is a death list of targets and their families to be eliminated. Born in a death camp, should he deliver the list or throw it away? Then an uprising occurs and John realizes his appearance is the code signal for the assault to begin. John has to make a choice between his life and the life of another woman who has led the vigilantes to him. John finds a lifting of the darkness in his heart when he meets a woman, Rita, a teacher in Jakarta. We see the kind of man John could have been if the vectors of his life had taken a different trajectory. Instead, he is a man constantly on the lookout for dangers and menacing people coming after him for the transgressions of his past. There is haunting beauty in the writing by Doughty. I highly recommend this novel.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anni

    A mercenary outsider with a murky past in espionage is the conflicted protagonist of this epic thriller, which combines the political and the personal in a complex tale of moral ambiguity. A sense of intrigue, paranoia and threat pervades throughout, with the tension build-up all the more gripping against the natural menace of an exotic location. A nerve-jangling read lies in wait ... Reviewed for Whichbook.net

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles Edwards-Freshwater

    In many ways this novel was somewhat of a let down. The dark cover, intriguing blurb and general presentation of the book made it out to be a thriller - something zippy and exciting that would be a full-throttle race to the end filled with guns, murder intrigues, a colourful host of characters.... Black Water, instead, is a rather languorous read that actually felt a bit confused as to its own identity. That's not to say that I didn't love certain elements of it. The settings are fantastic - we In many ways this novel was somewhat of a let down. The dark cover, intriguing blurb and general presentation of the book made it out to be a thriller - something zippy and exciting that would be a full-throttle race to the end filled with guns, murder intrigues, a colourful host of characters.... Black Water, instead, is a rather languorous read that actually felt a bit confused as to its own identity. That's not to say that I didn't love certain elements of it. The settings are fantastic - we zip between locations such as Bali, California and Amsterdam - offices, huts, rice fields, crowded cities - Doughty can conjure an excellent sense of place and, overall, the writing is very accomplished. There is a lot of research at play here, and as this part of history is something I had no idea about it was interesting to learn of the conflicts and events that shaped this part of the world during this time. However, with all of this promise, the story somehow still felt flat to me. Perhaps it is because Harper is wooden and dull (an interesting history doesn't always make a character compelling as a whole) or perhaps it was the sort of strange love story and lack of any real tension that let the story down - it was reflective and elegant in places, bloody and brutal in the next, but these contrasts ended up being tedious rather than interesting by the end. There are some real beautiful moments here, and some of the more reflective parts are actually very insightful and raise a lot of good questions that still apply to the world today. There are also some great moments that stand out for sheer power of the writing, such as when Bud drowns in the waterfall - this was shocking and elegantly done, and the horror was well captured in the pages. I also liked the revelation of what happened in the rice fields, but by then my interest with the character had waned enough for this to not have the right level of impact - however, the section was still wonderfully written and ghoulish to visualise. It's almost worse reviewing a book that I have no strong opinions about rather than one I hated or loved. I think there are a few things that missed the mark for me here - not only the fact I find spy stories a little dull to begin with, but also that this novel refused to fit the mould of a spy story anyway. Doughty has been compared to Le Carre, and I'm glad to say I find her work much more compelling (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was arguably one of the worst books I ready last year - not my sort of thing at all) but I still find the genre difficult to get excited about. On the other hand, the novel wasn't compelling enough on its own - I felt it was still trying to be an action-filled spy fest in some places, whilst simultaneously pretending it was something deeper and more lofty. It is perhaps as confused as my review is. Not a winner, but not totally awful either. 3 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Imagine: youre going to write a book about a man nearing the age of 60, who was born in 1942 in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia. (Yes, its 1998 now.) His mother was Dutch, his father a dark-skinned Dutch-Indonesian soldier in the Dutch Army. At the age of five, his mother moved with him to Los Angeles to marry a World War II veteran with PTSD. The two disappear, leaving him with the mans parents, an African-American attorney and his common-law wife. Twelve years later, he is Imagine: you’re going to write a book about a man nearing the age of 60, who was born in 1942 in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia. (Yes, it’s 1998 now.) His mother was Dutch, his father a dark-skinned Dutch-Indonesian soldier in the Dutch Army. At the age of five, his mother moved with him to Los Angeles to marry a World War II veteran with PTSD. The two disappear, leaving him with the man’s parents, an African-American attorney and his common-law wife. Twelve years later, he is unexpectedly summoned to Holland by his mother to live with her and her third husband. An American-owned “consulting” firm Later, after service in the Dutch Army, he goes to work for the “Institute,” an American-owned Dutch “consulting” firm that works with the CIA in Indonesia and elsewhere in the developing world. Because his boss believes he speaks “all the languages there,” he is transferred to Jakarta in 1965. There he is assigned to serve as a courier for the CIA, conveying lists of “Communists” to the Indonesian generals who are murdering them — and almost anyone who is of Chinese extraction — by the hundreds of thousands. From Jakarta to Bali More than thirty years later, after working at a desk in Amsterdam for the company, he is transferred back to Jakarta to help assess the chaotic conditions in Indonesia in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. He badly misreads the situation, which leads to the overthrow of the Indonesian government. Having disappointed the company and its clients, he is exiled to Bali — Bali! — to rest in a company safe house in the countryside. Now, the man lies in wait, expecting that the company will send someone to kill him. That could be a fascinating book, right? Think about how you might describe life during the Indonesian genocide in 1965, the difficulty of growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s as a mixed-raced child with an African-American “grandfather,” the recurrence of large-scale violence in Indonesia in 1998, and life in rural Bali. The possibilities are endless, right? An historical thriller that doesn’t thrill So, why on earth would you devote 352 pages largely to the man’s self-pitying inner dialogue and his clumsy and largely unsuccessful connections with women? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Louise Doughty did in Black Water. From the very beginning she suggests much more: the title appears to refer to a notorious American company of mercenaries that bears some resemblance to the Institute that figures in the novel. But that analogy is completely missing in the story. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. If this book is an example of what today’s critics call “literature,” I’ll stick to nonfiction. And if I want to read made-up stories, give me mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction any time instead of pretentious books like this. The historical background The story in Black Water is grounded in historical fact. Genocidal violence did break out in Indonesia under Sukarno in the mid-1960s, and his successor, Suharto, was in truth driven from office in 1998 by a recurrence of large-scale violence. The CIA was deeply involved in 1965, and probably in 1998 as well. After all, in the 1960s, the CIA considered that assassinating popular leaders and supporting Right-Wing dictators were the essence of its business — and if its actions could be packaged under the banner of anti-Communism, that was all to the good. Too bad Louise Doughty didn’t make more of these facts. Louise Doughty is a popular English author and playwright, the author of eight novels and five plays. She should have known better.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tripfiction

    Novel set in Indonesia (intrigue decades apart) Black Water is a very informative, and very sympathetic, read Set in Indonesia in 1965 and 1998, it revolves around first the PKI communist uprising and then, 33 years later, around the overthrow of President Soeharto. John Harper is born of a Dutch mother and an Indonesian father. His father dies before his birth. He is brought up by his mother, first in Indonesia, then in the States and finally in the Netherlands a complicated and pretty unhappy Novel set in Indonesia (intrigue decades apart) Black Water is a very informative, and very sympathetic, read… Set in Indonesia in 1965 and 1998, it revolves around first the PKI communist uprising and then, 33 years later, around the overthrow of President Soeharto. John Harper is born of a Dutch mother and an Indonesian father. His father dies before his birth. He is brought up by his mother, first in Indonesia, then in the States and finally in the Netherlands – a complicated and pretty unhappy childhood. In his mid 20s he joins the Institute – a Dutch company to whom multinational companies and even governments outsource their intelligence gathering in dangerous parts of the world. He is posted to Indonesia just as the PKI is coming to the fore, and his return to the country of his birth is steeped in intrigue and deception. He is employed as a courier collecting and delivering lists of communist agents to the authorities. Many will be brutally murdered as a result of his activities. He leaves Jakarta and heads to Bali to make contact with a sympathiser – whose family members are immediately slaughtered by the insurgents… did he lead them to their death? Harper survives, but at great personal cost which comes to haunt him. He suffers a breakdown and returns to the Netherlands. Fast forward through 33 years of desk bound research, and Harper is again sent back to Indonesia – just as the uprising against Soeharto is coming to a head. He flounders, is out of his depth, and drinks too much – he is sent ‘on leave’ to the Institute’s bungalow in the country, while they decide what to do with him. He is quite paranoid about the possibilities. He does though fall for a local Western teacher, and much of the story is about their developing relationship – how gradually trust increases, and how they begin to be honest about events in their past. Black Water is a intriguing book on several levels. Much of it is based on fact, and it informs about relatively unknown periods in Indonesian history. Events are truly brought to life. But it is also a great deal more… Harper is an empathetic (if flawed) character. We can identify with what he has been though in his life – and with his paranoia. His developing relationship with Rita is well and sympathetically described. A book that is well worth reading.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Great story, and I loved the writing. Though this novel seemed to belong to the literary family of W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene, it was nevertheless very original in plot, voice, and characters. So many canny atmospheric descriptions of the surroundings were integral to the story itself. I haven't read anything else by this writer, but understand this is quite different from her other works. Wonderful! I love it when an excellent writer isn't fettered by loyal readers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paula DeBoard

    Thanks to Heywood Hill (and my husband, who bought my Heywood Hill book subscription) for this title, which I might otherwise have missed. Black Water tells the story of John Harper, an undercover operative for the Institute, stationed in Bali during the unrest in 1965 and again during a more recent governmental crisis. Is Harper succumbing to paranoia, or is someone really out to get him? *** Every few pages, Doughty would make some kind of quiet observation or spot-on physical description that Thanks to Heywood Hill (and my husband, who bought my Heywood Hill book subscription) for this title, which I might otherwise have missed. Black Water tells the story of John Harper, an undercover operative for the Institute, stationed in Bali during the unrest in 1965 and again during a more recent governmental crisis. Is Harper succumbing to paranoia, or is someone really out to get him? *** Every few pages, Doughty would make some kind of quiet observation or spot-on physical description that seemed brilliant to me, and that I would have to stop and underline and turn over in my mind. Here are a couple: People talked about the past as if it was a thing, an object: the past, like the box or the house or the three--as if it was solid and singular. But the past wasn't an object with boundaries, but something fluid and continuous, like a river. Nobody had one past. In 1965 he remembered 1950 in a certain way, and now in 1998, he remembered 1965 differently from how it was and 1950 differently from how he had remembered it in 1965. It was like standing in a box of mirrors and turning to see your reflection multiplied back and forth at you in endless iterations--except, in his case, each reflection was slightly different. Henrikson showed up at the office later that day, in chinos and a polo shirt, fresh from his power shower at Le Meridien. He was medium-height and medium-build, white, brown-haired--everything about him was medium. He looked like a man designed by a committee whose specification was someone who would never, ever stand out in a crowd.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike Zeko

    This book blew me away. I initially thought it was a spy novel, but it was so much more than that. A typical spy novel these days is so carbon-cut, but not Black Water. There is depth to it along with a more than complex story of the life of John Harper whose globe-trotting self has come to a crossroad, under the water-colored Balinese sky. Or more importantly under a hut in a lush green jungle, listening to all of the critters, waiting for someone to kill him. The story runs through every This book blew me away. I initially thought it was a spy novel, but it was so much more than that. A typical spy novel these days is so carbon-cut, but not Black Water. There is depth to it along with a more than complex story of the life of John Harper whose globe-trotting self has come to a crossroad, under the water-colored Balinese sky. Or more importantly under a hut in a lush green jungle, listening to all of the critters, waiting for someone to kill him. The story runs through every aspect of Harper's life, with an intense focus on his upbringing in the Dutch Indies, Indonesia, and Los Angeles. In the process, Doughty unravels a previous slab of the history of the CIA-facilitated Indonesia massacres in 1965 as well as the riots in the 90's. My favorite aspect in the book was the romance between Harper and Rita. She is just as damaged and lonely as he is. They instantly click together and spent the days learning about each other-more her than him- and drink in the island life in a remote hut in Bali. Please read this brilliantly structured novel and swim in Doughty's mind.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura Spira

    The only book by Louise Doughty that I had previously read was Apple Tree Yard which I really enjoyed. When I started reading and realised that this book is very different, set in a part of the world about which I know very little and in times of upheaval about which I was equally ignorant, I thought I might not want to read on. But I was completely gripped by it. Her central character, who has more than one name, might seem like the central character from a Graham Greene or John le Carre story The only book by Louise Doughty that I had previously read was Apple Tree Yard which I really enjoyed. When I started reading and realised that this book is very different, set in a part of the world about which I know very little and in times of upheaval about which I was equally ignorant, I thought I might not want to read on. But I was completely gripped by it. Her central character, who has more than one name, might seem like the central character from a Graham Greene or John le Carre story but the gradual unfolding of his past and the influences and events that had made him into a shadowy spy-like character was very cleverly done. He reminded me a bit of Don Draper in Mad Men, although he seemed to have more of a conscience. Some of the other characters were rather flat, undeveloped and stereotypical but in way this emphasised aspects of the central character even more. Doughty is very good at designing structures which build up tension. She manages to depict cities and landscapes vividly with very little description. And she is a skilled punctuater: good to see fine use of colons and semi-colons.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol Ann

    Doughty does it again with this tense page-turner. Like Doughty's Apple Tree Yard, the writing is smart and engaging. But this story is a completely different tale and Doughty writes it beautifully. I've seen comparisons to Graham Greene and Le Carre with Black Water, and I don't disagree. This is a very good story that is not not to be missed. I was wide-eyed right up to the final page. Moral complexities and ambiguities make this a great choice for book discussions.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Spoilers. Am genuinely reeling with surprise that pudgy love interest Rita was in fact not really an assassin sent to finally end main character's "I'm doomed I tell you / oh actually it's probably fine" vacillation, and I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity. Very interested to hear what work book club made of it tomorrow.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    "Black Water" by Louise Doughty falls into my category of "admired but not actually liked." John Harper, an intelligence mercenary on contract with the CIA in Indonesia, has reason for paranoia. Holed up in a hut near the Balinese town of Ubud, he recalls decisions made in 1965 on his first long tour of duty that resulted in the death of many. He fears retribution for that and more recent blunders in which valuable files under his care were compromised. He meets Rita, a teacher, who flees her "Black Water" by Louise Doughty falls into my category of "admired but not actually liked." John Harper, an intelligence mercenary on contract with the CIA in Indonesia, has reason for paranoia. Holed up in a hut near the Balinese town of Ubud, he recalls decisions made in 1965 on his first long tour of duty that resulted in the death of many. He fears retribution for that and more recent blunders in which valuable files under his care were compromised. He meets Rita, a teacher, who flees her own demons, and he hopes for a life with a clean slate. This is a thriller. Will young boys bearing machetes find and dismember him during the current unrest? Doughty struggles with bringing to life an intriguing character: born Nicolaas Den Herder to a Dutch mother in a Japanese internment camp, his half-Indonesian father was beheaded by Japanese soldiers. At the same time, she attempts to connect Harper's personal story to the world of international capitalism and colonialism. The subject matter is interesting, as is the setting, but somehow, for me, the characters are never fully sympathetic. They remain at arms length.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Sorry- it's dire. Slow, tedious, boring. The hype compares to Le Carre. The hype is so wrong. This will be the last Louise Doughty book I ever read. One superb read and then three duds- I tried

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Beswick

    Well this is a welcome change from the run of books I've read of late. Needed a break from 'old friends reuniting after umpteen years apart to discover they don't know each other at all' type stories. Enough already of endless wine guzzling women in unhappy relationships yet remain trapped and unable to get out despite offers of help because hey, that would mean losing their martyrdom status! Black Water has none of that nonsense. It has heart and soul and is proper storytelling. Set around Well this is a welcome change from the run of books I've read of late. Needed a break from 'old friends reuniting after umpteen years apart to discover they don't know each other at all' type stories. Enough already of endless wine guzzling women in unhappy relationships yet remain trapped and unable to get out despite offers of help because hey, that would mean losing their martyrdom status! Black Water has none of that nonsense. It has heart and soul and is proper storytelling. Set around mid-century Civil rights and Indonesia's turbulent history, it looks deeply at race, communism and social classes. John harper is at the heart of it as he is despatched to report on the unrest and upheaval during the twentieth century uprising. The story looks back at John's unsettled life and the childhood scars he's had to live with. Dark and not always an easy read but worth gritting your teeth and suppressing tears because there are moments of such delight humour and humanity, you'll cheer for John Harper and beg for him to come out on top. If proof were needed this book is worth a read, this sentence from page 307 is what makes Louise Doughty a brilliant writer. "At the back of his desk, there was a metal ashtray, a copper coloured one with semi-circular indents all around its edge, as if there was any chance a dozen people might want to rest a cigarette on it at the same time?" Superb!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kat Walter

    A tension filled novel about a disgraced employee working for The Company. The times are uncertain and dark on these outwardly beautiful islands. As the protagonist awaits his final orders from his employers, he reminisces and seeks redemption for his actions or lack thereof. Its all about power and choices. A tension filled novel about a disgraced employee working for The Company. The times are uncertain and dark on these outwardly beautiful islands. As the protagonist awaits his final orders from his employers, he reminisces and seeks redemption for his actions or lack thereof. It’s all about power and choices.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    (3.5) I struggled to engage with Harper from the off and this in turn left me feeling ambiguous about the book. I wasnt drawn to pick it up and read but due to the glowing reviews I persevered The story rallied in the 2nd part (which earned it an extra star because I loved Michael Snr and Nina) and then petered out again. The promised suspense never materialised, just a sense of relief when Id finished. (3.5) I struggled to engage with Harper from the off and this in turn left me feeling ambiguous about the book. I wasn’t drawn to pick it up and read but due to the glowing reviews I persevered The story rallied in the 2nd part (which earned it an extra star because I loved Michael Snr and Nina) and then petered out again. The promised suspense never materialised, just a sense of relief when I’d finished.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sadie

    I wasn't sure about this at first, but then it really got going - great writing. This is how a literary thriller is done!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan Wilson

    I just dont get it. Only pushed myself to finish as reading for book club. Didnt think it was a psychological thriller. In my opinion, even the big reveal was an anticlimax. I just don’t get it. Only pushed myself to finish as reading for book club. Didn’t think it was a psychological thriller. In my opinion, even the big reveal was an anticlimax.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Sorry this book just not for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book was a little less accessible than Apple Tree Yard. It was still pretty good but with the time changes it was a bit hard to keep track of.

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