If you’ve already heard of Paula Hawkin’s debut novel The Girl on the Train, you’ve no doubt heard the marketing publicity comparing it to Gone Girl. In a way it’s a fair assertion: 1. a woman goes missing, 2. unreliability of narrator, 3. husband is scrutinized and 4. the publishing timing is not that far off from the success of both the book and film adaptation of the latter. Yet, I think it would be incorrect to lump them together.
It’s more like a Hitchcock film. The majority of the plot is relegated to the train itself or a small neighborhood right outside of London. The main narrator is entirely unreliable and she is constantly doubting her own memory–or lack thereof–of what she might have seen, along with others cutting away at her POV.
The Girl on the Train is a book more concerned with telling the story of the women–three to be exact. Where Gone Girl, even when focused on the missing “girl,” was clearly concerned with the husband.
Rachel is a divorcée whose ex-husband still lives in their once shared house, but now with his new wife–who he had carried on an affair while previously married–and their baby girl. Rachel takes the train every day in and out of London, the same commute that takes her past her husband’s house. She also watches another couple, imagining their names, ambitions, and lives. Even though Rachel is so concerned with watching and dissecting, there is one overwhelming point about her: she’s a fall down drunk. Her memory is a wispy thing that flits out of her mind; nothing is nailed down and when she might be the only witness to a possible crime, no one, including herself, initially takes her seriously.
The book is a page-turner, simple as that. When the POV changes to two other women, I wondered why, but it builds, oh, it builds. Hawkins planned this plot. It wouldn’t have been successful otherwise and like any solid Hitchcockian thriller worth its salt, there are multiple red herrings and possible villains (I half-expected Cary Grant to just pop out at any time).
My qualms were few and easily quashed. I was curious how the editor allowed the first few pages. They were mundane. Classic examples that you hear all book people talk about as something to avoid. Unless the readership has been living under a rock, the audience can be trusted to understand what train travel entails. I would’ve had my trusty red pen strike those dull pages describing the train interior, etc. I almost recommend skipping them, but they are so few, so just power through to get to the action.
Rachel is unreliable, infuriating, and compelling. Her choices and actions are so cringe-worthy at times, I couldn’t help but keep one proverbial eye open waiting for her downfalls leading to the reveal. The book would have benefited from some fat trimming, but it seems that most English-language books these days are poured to the brim instead of leaving a little out.
This book is enjoyable all around, but definitely so for those readers who like a solid thriller with unanticipated and unexpected turns.
Has anyone else read this? I had a long-haul flight recently and it was perfect for passing the time!