The Girl on the Train
You know when there’s a book that everyone seems to be talking about? It’s advertised everywhere, someone on the bus is reading it every morning and you’ve even seen your friend’s friend visiting from Chile reading it in Spanish. So, you stop and think, if all these people are reading it, maybe you should be too? Surely they wouldn’t all be reading a book that was bad, right?
This was exactly how I felt about Paula Hawkins’ debut fiction novel The Girl on the Train. It was finally thrust into my hand by a friend and I had devoured it by the end of that weekend. In fact, the only time I pulled myself off the couch was to go to the supermarket and I almost crashed my car because my mind was still sitting with Rachel, thinking about her story and speculating which turn the story was about to take. I quickly decided that being outside of the living room was a bad idea and promptly went home to finish the book.
The Girl on the Train is the story of sad, sorry and drunk woman named Rachel. She commutes into London each weekday on the same train, passing the same houses and seeing the same people. Life isn’t great for Rachel and, to add to the mess, the train also passes the neighbourhood that she used to live in with her ex-husband. Her ex-husband who she still loves, who she drunk dials frequently and who is remarried with a newborn baby.
To cope with all of this, Rachel starts fantasising about the life of a couple that lives in one of the houses in her old neighbourhood. The train passes very close to their home, giving Rachel frequent glimpses of them. She names them Jess and Jason and believes they are care-free and enviably perfect. Rachel watches them and imagines what their beautiful lives must be like. She gives them their own personalities and back stories and obsesses over them daily. Then, one day, she hears news that “Jess” is missing. Rachel then takes it upon herself to tell the police what she “knows” about the missing girl in order to help them solve the crime.
Rachel is a severely unreliable narrator. Her memory, and therefore the story, is alcohol-addled. It has gaps. It is untrustworthy. She is a nasty mess who is very barely likeable and, yet, you are drawn into her web of lies and hangovers and compulsively read on.
With books like The Girl on the Train, the reader is always expecting the big twist. Like with S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I knew that something was wrong with the story I was reading but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I have discussed the twist with a few of my friends who have also read this book and only the true crime junkies saw where it was going. I was learning the truth alongside the heroine (if you can call Rachel that) and that’s what makes The Girl on the Train such a compelling read.
Well done, Ms. Hawkins, the hype was well earned.