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The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water is a 1997 bestselling novel by Anita Shreve. Half of the novel is historical fiction that speculates about the true events of the Smuttynose Island murders of 1873.

Plot summary

In 1873, two women living on the Isles of Shoals, a group of islands off the coast of New Hampshire, were brutally murdered. A third woman, named Maren, survived by cowering in a sea cave until dawn. More than a century later, Jean, a magazine photographer working on a photoessay about the murders, returns to the Isles with her husband, Thomas, and their five-year-old daughter, Billie, aboard a boat skippered by her brother-in-law, Rich, who has brought along his girlfriend, Adaline. As Jean becomes immersed in the details of the 19th-century murders, Thomas and Adaline find themselves drawn together-with potentially ruinous consequences.

The novel is split into two parts: the present day, told from Jean's point of view and in the present tense, and 1873, told in first person from Maren's point of view as a memoir (past tense).


A film adaptation of the same name, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was released in 2002. It starred Sean Penn, Catherine McCormack, Elizabeth Hurley and Sarah Polley.

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