- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound
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? – Goodreads
This is going to be one of those books that’s hard to review, because it’s suspenseful, a mystery, the plot is twisty and the timeline shifty. It’s hard to know what details to give away and what to keep secret, what minor event will become a catalyst for something bigger, whether sharing it will ruin the surprise. So we’ll start with the basics. Rachel is a thirty-something divorcee, an alcoholic with an overactive imagination who has been divorced and living in a university friend’s spare bedroom for two years. She rides the commuter train from Ashbury to London everyday, and she watches Number Fifteen, the home of Jason and Jess, which coincidentally is also only a few doors down from the house Rachel shared with her ex-husband, Tom. Rachel makes up elaborate stories about Jason and Jess and avoids looking at her old home, where Tom is still living with his new wife, Anna, and their baby. Details unfold about Rachel’s new life and the one she lost that make you feel sorry for her, feel she’s been dealt a bad hand, but she is also strange, sort of creepy with her imagination, with her obsession with strangers and her own past.
And then there is Megan, whose name is not Jess, who does not come close to living up to the image Rachel has built up in her head. Megan, who is married to Scott, not Jason, who has panic attacks and extramarital affairs, who has no direction and a selfish heart. We jump back and forth in time with these two. Megan is in the fall of 2012 and Rachel is in the summer of 2013, and I think these jumps are complementary. When I was first beginning the book, I believed we were seeing the aftermath of Rachel’s downfall and the buildup to Megan’s. This book has been compared to Gone Girl, which makes me wary, not of the comparison, but of the twisty nature of that book. I spent a lot of time trying not to be fooled, trying to pick out clues from the prose. Because, at some point in Rachel’s timeline, Megan goes missing.
So, first, this book is like Gone Girl in that all the characters are pretty terrible humans, though at least in this novel, they have some redeeming qualities. I had a feeling from the very beginning that not a single one of the many narrators was reliable, which usually means they’re all lying as they tell the story, or covering up, or being misleading. Nova Ren Suma does a great unreliable narrator, and so does Hawkins. I am the first to admit that I’m not always very good at figuring the mystery out early on, especially not in books, so I am not one of the people who figured out very early on. At around the halfway mark, I looked back and wondered who it could be, if I had missed something, but I still had no idea. Mostly I found myself worried about the baby, the way one worries about the dog in any film, wondering if the dog will make it to the end of the movie. It wasn’t until I was almost three-quarters of the way through the book that I started having suspicions. And the last 10% or so of the book was very stressful to read, because even though everyone was horrible and I didn’t exactly like them, I was worried about our narrators.
Hawkins does a great job at keeping you in suspense while also keeping the story moving at a good pace. I think the book is good because all the characters are reprehensible and yet you can’t look away, you have to know what happened to Megan, what happened to Rachel, what happened to Anna. The story jumps back and forth in time, but it unfolds and reveals quickly. I liked this story because it kept me on the edge of my seat, kept me interested. I was unable to stop reading. That is always the mark of a good book to me.
And finally, a quote from the beginning of the book that I really liked:
- “Life is not a paragraph and death is no parentheses.”