Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Doubleday, UK
Publication Year: 2015
I first heard about The Girl on the Train when I saw my mother-in-law (an always-reliable weather vane for anything mystery/thriller) reading it last summer. Soon it began to pop up across bookstores, retail stores and airports. Given its title (one of now a slew of 'girl' books) and it’s proximity to the release of the Gone Girl movie, the comparisons were inevitable as well as the squabbles over which one was better.
My curiosity was piqued especially since I had loved Gone Girl and of course, since everyone was raving about it, but I have this strange aversion about reading books at the peak of their buzz and will normally wait to read them later once they are available in paperback (does anyone else does this? I’m still trying to figure out if this is me gagging at the thought of forking over $35 dollars for a hardcover or a fear of collective exuberance clouding my reading experience) so I didn’t run out to get it right away and somehow I've managed to stay spoiler-free this whole time.
Months later, now that the movie will come out soon I figure it’s time to read the book! Here are my thoughts:
Overall I greatly enjoyed the book. It really satisfied my craving for an introspective, character driven thriller.
The story itself builds tension slowly through atmospheric observations and narrative.The first couple of chapters especially can feel a bit slow for anyone expecting a fast-paced thriller, but stick with it, it’s worth it!
The story is narrated by three main characters, all women who are connected in ways that the reader slowly discovers. All three are flawed and elicit varying degrees of frustration and/or exasperation from the reader at times. The central character is Rachel, a lonely alcoholic and the eponymous “girl on the train” who commutes to London everyday and starts to romanticize a couple that she sees everyday through the window of the train as the perfect couple reminiscent of herself and her ex-husband before their divorce. One day, she witnesses something from the train and the next day the woman from the ‘perfect couple’ vanishes and Rachel becomes convinced that what she witnessed is related to the disappearance.
Although this book is what one might classify as a ‘domestic thriller’ I think that it differentiates itself from Gone Girl and stands quite well on it’s own. The Girl on the Train explores issues such as addiction, abuse, misogyny, relationship dynamics (both marital and non-marital) and alcoholism in a unique and thought provoking way. While the book is not overly violent or explicit by any means it does leave your stomach churning especially watching Rachel struggle through depression, addiction and compulsive behaviour as she attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance . You root for her, feel sorry for her, feel frustrated at her relapses and gasp with her as she pieces the parts together.
The only reason I did not give this a higher rating was of my own fault. I read a review of the book before I had finished it myself (Thanks NYT) which lead me to believe that the ending was monumental and shocking beyond belief and while the reveal was certainly heart pounding it felt less important than the review made it out to be. For me the real strength of this book was in it it’s character development, ability to generate empathy for deeply flawed and unlikable characters, and its raw depictions of alcoholism and mental health issues.