The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Fellow book nerds, I have a question: who is NOT reading The Girl On The Train right now? On one hand, I feel obligated to review the hot new book right this second; on the other hand, that could be pointless if everyone has already read it. Oh well. I guess I’ll go ahead for the three of you who haven’t heard of it.
TGOTT is another British thriller, and the ladies are taking some hits in this one. There are three female narrators: one is a flaming alcoholic, one is a mean floozy, and one is an uptight, judgmental liar. The central protagonist, Rachel, is an unreliable narrator, partly because she is gradual and selective in her reveals, and partly because she is such a sot that she isn’t really certain what the heck just happened. Poor Rachel is also the personification of Loser. In fact, loss defines her recent life: her husband has had an affair and divorced her, she’s been forced out of the home she loves, and her massive drinking problem has not resulted in a stellar job performance, to say the least. The only thing she’s not losing is weight.
Every day, Rachel takes the commuter train to London. She has a Hitchcockian fascination with trains; being on a train is one of the few places she is at peace, and she particularly enjoys fantasizing about a home she sees every day on her route. She invents names and occupations and personalities for the young couple who live there, gradually becoming more and more obsessed with them, until one day, she sees something startling happen with Megan, the wife. After Megan’s subsequent disappearance, the line between Rachel’s fantasies and reality gradually blurs until it’s gone; Rachel insinuates herself into the investigation of the disappearance, interacting inappropriately with the suspects in the possible murder, until it becomes obvious that Rachel is a suspect herself.
Despite a propensity to sabotage herself at every possible opportunity, you can’t help rooting—a little—for Rachel. The inside of her head is a foggy landscape with craters big enough to swallow a brontosaurus, but the author does a nice job of navigating through the atmosphere of confusion and suspicion and mystery that surrounds her in order to make you care what happens. The other POVs in the novel come from Megan and Anna (the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband), both of whom are odious. The plot line has an over-reliance on Rachel’s tendency to black out and forget everything at critical moments, which allows for Rachel, and the reader along with her, to be a little uncertain about the motivations of every single character. In the end, it’s not terribly hard to figure out whodunit, though the writing is strong enough to make this train ride really enjoyable.
Any time a buzzy psychological thriller comes out these days, it immediately gets measured against Gone Girl and A Silent Wife and Before I Go To Sleep. I thought it was comparable to those books, although I liked them slightly more than this one. If you read my last review, you’ll already know my new favorite in the genre: A Pleasure and A Calling.
Title: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Author: Paula Hawkins
Genre: Psychological suspense
Page count: 326