The Girl on the Train
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Verdict = 3/5 *entertaining but a bit predictable*
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a novel that I’ve been curious about for a while. The hype surrounding this book made me both wary and interested so when I saw it in my local library I decided it was a good opportunity to see whether it lived up to the hype.
The Girl on the Train is a murder mystery told through three distinct female voices: Rachel, Anna and Megan. The initial focus is Rachel who observes a seemingly perfect couple ‘Jess and Jason’ (as she names them) for a few moments as the train passes their house on her morning commute. But one day Rachel sees something from the train that reveals a whole new side to the couple and then ‘Jess’ aka Megan goes missing. Rachel feels compelled to get involved in the investigation due to what she saw and gaps in her own memory the night Megan disappeared.
Rachel was an interesting, if frustrating character to read about. When the story begins she is not in a good place in her life, with a myriad of problems as a result of her failed marriage. She is a character that will provoke you throughout the novel, her constant drinking and tendency to make stupid decisions made me throw the book away in frustration more than once. Rachel is not necessarily a good person, but as the story progressed my feelings switched from pity and frustration to compassion and even pride as she began to get her life together.
The plot thickens with the introduction of Tom and Anna, Rachel’s cheating ex-husband and his former mistress now wife. Tom and Anna live near Megan and her husband Scott. Rachel’s uncomfortable relationship with them plays a key part in the story.
The Girl on the Train has been compared to Gone Girl, both because it is a mystery/psychological thriller with a big twist and also because there are not many likable characters in the story. I like to address both these points.
Firstly, the big twist – Hawkins throws out several red herrings to try and confuse the reader, but if you are familiar with the genre and pay attention to the dialogue you can work out who the murderer is early on (for me it was about halfway through). However, this didn’t effect my enjoyment of the book all that much, I still liked watching Rachel figure it out.
It is also true that the story doesn’t have many likable characters – Megan is selfish, Anna is a bit neurotic and the less said about the male characters the better. As I mentioned before Rachel makes some foolish decisions that are frustrating – but she is likable in other ways.
I should also address the presence of female stereotypes in this book – the overprotective mother whose life revolves around her family, the loose woman who is out to seduce your man and the single woman who desperately wants a family. All you need is the hard-ass career woman and you arguably have that in the female police officer. This book is FULL of stereotypes, with very little in the way of character development. If you’ve seen the trailer you will know that Megan’s promiscuity is played up, it practically screams at the viewer – murdered seductress! To be honest I’m getting a little sick of stereotypes in literature – the madonna vs the whore, the bad boy tamed by a good woman, female cattiness over men (ahem…The Selection).
However, despite it’s flaws The Girl on the Train is an entertaining novel. While I could predict who the murderer was I was interested in seeing how events unfolded and the pacing in that regard was excellent. Hawkins jumps back and forwards through time to before and after Megan’s disappearance. It is very chilling reading from the perspective of someone you know will be missing in a few months time, watching events come together to culminate in her murder. Reading from Rachel’s perspective as she pieces together the clues was engaging as well. Anna’s was less interesting, but complemented the other perspectives by filling in extra details.
Read this book if you enjoy fast-paced murder mysteries with female leads. Don’t read if you prefer likable characters and books with just one perspective.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Tara Moss has written very eloquently on the subject of female stereotypes in popular culture, most notably in her book The Fictional Woman.