Welcome back, fellow book lovers! As promised, I have for you today my review of:
Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train.
Although I bought this book at the end of the summer and read a few pages right away, I was soon too busy with books for school and this became the first book that I read in 2016 instead. I’d read lots of recommendations for this book in conjunction with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and since I had loved some aspects of that one, I felt that The Girl on the Train was a necessary follow-up.
“Before I have time to move, his hand shoots out, he grabs my forearm and pulls me towards him. His mouth is a grim line, his eyes wild. He is desperate. Flooded with dread and adrenaline, I see darkness coming. I open my mouth to cry out, but I’m too late, he yanks me into the house and slams the door behind me.” (Hawkins, 130).
The Girl on the Train is a thrilling ride across suburban London with a tricky character web. The story is told primarily from the vantage points of Megan, before she has gone missing, and Rachel, in the aftermath, who has been observing Megan and her home from the train every day. Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, also gives a little insight into both women and acts as the glue that keeps Rachel connected to a mystery that doesn’t necessarily involve her–or so the police think. When Rachel comes forward with information she hopes will help clear Megan’s husband from suspicion (because after watching him and Megan from the train for months she feels that she knows them, and is certain Scott had nothing to do with the disappearance), the lead investigators on the case are quick to dismiss her on the grounds of unreliability due to her heavy drinking habit. Anna, however, is tired of Rachel’s constant presence and is quick to alert the police that Rachel was on the street the night of Megan’s disappearance, that she was obscenely drunk, and that she believes Rachel to be dangerous. Rachel knows her drinking is a problem, and has been told of horrendous things she’s done while blackout drunk, and admits she can’t remember what happened to her on the night of Megan’s disappearance. She tries several times to cut the alcohol out of her life, but she’s the kind of heroine who slips and lies; her intentions are good, but sometimes she fails in the struggle.
The fact that the characters occasionally succumb to their vices and lead relatively ordinary lives–worrying about their babies, battling unemployment, and paying a little too much attention to other people’s lives–make the story seem plausible and close, like something that could happen in your own town, or the next one over.
Some technical aspects I enjoyed include: firstly, the time and character shifts. This story is certainly strengthened by the use of multiple narrators, and although I had to work harder in the beginning to make sense of all the dates, the jumps in time helped build a rich timeline that explained the events leading to Megan’s disappearance from all sides of the event without giving too much away inopportunely. Secondly, the use of misleading evidence. This goes beyond the assumptions of an unreliable narrator; Hawkins allows Rachel to speculate, but then provides pointed reasoning from multiple characters supporting each alternative. It feels like foreshadowing, but each idea is turned around by some other theory in the next chapter. It’s precisely this well-done misdirection that keeps the reader guessing as to what’s really happened until the characters finally work together to make sense of what they couldn’t individually.
There are fun psychological aspects to the story, but as shown in the excerpt above, there are some great scenes of suspense, as well. This, as well as the fact that a girl has vanished under mysterious circumstances, is the only real tie I saw between Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and Flynn’s Gone Girl. That said, if you’ve read either one of these books and enjoyed it, you’ll probably like the other. Although I found the characters of The Girl on the Train to be a little less psychotic, both are captivating, addicting reads. I give 5/5 stars.
A further recommendation: for readers who’ve enjoyed either of these novels, check out Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, a dystopian thriller that, although there has been no murder or mysterious disappearance, does involve a lot of jail time and a similar display of couples who’ve been pitted against each other by suspicion. (I hope to provide a review of this book sometime in the next few weeks, as well, because it was one of my favorites from 2015.)
But in the meantime, although I’ve got more reviews for great thrillers by strong female writers, I’m going to shift into sci-fi mode for…
Coming up: next week I’ll be reviewing Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a fictional account of a man who travels back in time to stop the assassination of JFK. Will he succeed? Will he fail? Will he fall in love along the way? Will he create too many time threads and destroy the world as we know it? Check in next week (or read the book in the meantime) to hear more about my current favorite Stephen King book.
Please submit any recommendations you my have for me!
The Literary Elephant