The Girl on the Train is the first book by Paula Hawkins, a journalist for fifteen years before hopping into published fiction. Born in Zimbabwe, she has, however, been a Londoner since 1989. The main character, Rachel, opens the book and spends a lot of time on the train to commute from her town Ashbury to London, looking at random things — rags on the train track, suburban architecture, fellow passengers. As the train runs down the track through a blur of Victorian houses, Rachel gets a regular glimpse of the life of a young couple whenever the train does its regular stop at a signal just before a station. She ‘sees’ them so often that she feels she knows them closely and has attributed names to them. The ball starts rolling when Rachel sees something ‘shocking’ one day, and volunteering this information gets her deeply involved in the lives of select members of that neighborhood.
✓ 04. A book published this year
✓ 09. A book by a female author
Every commuter can probably relate to Rachel’s voyeurism. Who hasn’t seen through a lighted room with their curtains drawn up in the dimness of the evening commute? On the platform while waiting for my train home, I can easily look down on people’s backyards and sometimes see shadows on the curtains of the houses’ residents. It was quite relatable and amusing reading the first part of the book, but it quickly ended when I got confused on the change of first person perspective plus a time jump backwards.
The book is told from the perspective of three women — Rachel, Anna, and Megan. There was a bit of going back and forth between chapters and pages to make sense of things (I did a lot of ‘what? what’s happening? where/when is this now?’), but once you establish who’s who, it’s easy to roll through the book.
I love mysteries. I could barely put Conan Doyle’s The Hound of Baskervilles down even when my tween self was getting scared. This book’s mystery was getting a little on my nerves. Rachel saw something ‘shocking’ (this is the term used in the ‘About the Book’ page) but she couldn’t remember it. And yet, she feels it’s very important. In the end, it was, as it led to revealing who the killer of the book’s murder mystery was. However, getting there was quite annoying, because this book is filled with unlovable characters, which I guess is what made it comparable to Gone Girl. Rachel is a bumbling idiot, Anna is an unrepenting cheater, and Megan is a woman who bases her self-worth and self-esteem on getting the attraction of men. All qualities that I find abhorrent, in all three! Sheesh.
To be fair, Rachel is an alcoholic and a victim of spousal abuse, and I try not to judge her idiocy in case it is tied to that. I tried to recall what I learned in uni about psychiatry, but nothing clear comes to mind. All I know is that those two are surely enough to mess someone up. The problem is there were some actions made by the character that just did not make sense, and only seems put on there to make her seem crazy in the eye of one character, while you as a reader are meant to just take it as her being lights out drunk.
The crescendo comes near the end, during the reveal. And I say near the end, because the book somehow did not stop there, and in my opinion, it dropped the ball after that. For a lack of a better adjective, it was a ‘what the fuck was that?!’ type of ending, and it was the general consensus amongst the ladies in the book club.
“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”
– Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train)
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Let’s have a chat!
Do you know of anyone similar to the three women characters in this book? (An alcoholic, a husband stealer, a beggar of sexual attention, a victim of emotional/physical abuse)
Do you think its comparison to Gone Girl had merit?