Review: The Girl on the Train
I just finished up listening to one of the latest best sellers, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I had heard some IRL friends talking about it and decided I didn't want to be left out. So, this was my break book in between Outlander #1 and #2. The Girl on the Train has been touted as the next Gone Girl. And, I will say, it is somewhat similar in tone and thematically. But, I wouldn't quite put it on the level of Gone Girl, though I did enjoy it. Here's the summary for the book, before we discuss this any further.
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?
Sounds interesting right? I thought so. I'm a commuter too, always have been since I graduated from college. While I don't take the train anymore, I did for a awhile. And, I have to admit, I've done what Rachel does. I've made up imaginary backstories for the people I pass everyday. I still do it in the car sometimes. But, Rachel takes her backstory to a completely different level. I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but there might be some minor stuff that is mentioned. Join me after the break to read more of what I thought of The Girl on the Train.
Let me start by giving a little more in-depth summary of the book. Rachel Watson is our main character. She is an early 30s PR person who commutes to London everyday by train. Almost everyday, her train stops right behind the block she used to live on. From the train, she can see a couple, whom she calls Jess and Jason, enjoying the terrace in their backyard. Because she is a little lonely, Rachel makes up a whole life for them. Then, one day she sees something....unexpected happen in their yard. Shortly after that, she hears that Jess (Megan Hipwell is actually her name) has gone missing. Rachel decides that she must tell Jason (aka Scott Hipwell) what she saw. She tells both the police and Scott what she saw that day and becomes overly involved and invested in the solving of Megan's disappearance. The story is told from three perspectives, Rachel's, Megan's, and Anna's. Anna is Rachel's ex-husband's new wife. They live in the house that Rachel and Tom, the husband, lived in when they were married. Just down the street from Megan and Scott Hipwell.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk a little bit about our main narrator, Rachel. Here's the most important thing to know about Rachel. She is the world's 2nd most unreliable narrator. The first, of course, being Diary Amy from Gone Girl. But, Rachel isn't a complete lunatic, like Amy. The explanation for her unreliable narration is much more simple. Rachel is a blackout drunk. This attribute is crucial to the story and the fate of Megan Hipwell. Rachel thinks she saw something the night of her disappearance. But, she can't be sure because she was so drunk she has no memories from that night. Another important thing to know about Rachel is that she has not accepted the fact that her ex husband has moved on. So, when she gets rip roaring drunk, she will call, text, or try to see Tom, her ex husband. The contentiousness between Rachel and Anna, the new wife, is the main sub-plot. Now, don't get me wrong, Rachel is not a horrible person. She's just a drunk. She is really a very sympathetic character. But, there are times when you just want to shake her and tell her to grow up, move on, and get sober. Alas, we can't touch or speak to the lovely people that live in our books, unless you happen to live in the movie The Pagemaster. So, we must just hope that Rachel can overcome her demons and help find Megan Hipwell.
One of our other narrators, Megan Hipwell, is a very interesting person. I can't talk too much about her without spoiling bits of the story. But, I will say that I was very intrigued by this character. From the start, you can tell that she is a very broken person. But, she is the kind of person you want to help. You want to know why she is so broken and you want to fix her. But, sometimes she acts so irrationally that, like Rachel, you just want to shake her and ask her what the fuck she is doing. You do find out what happened to her to make her like this. But, I don't want to give that away. Megan, also, is an unreliable narrator. Her excuse is that she's not very stable, mentally. She also wades deeply in the river of denial. Eventually, we get the truth to show through the lies and disjointed thoughts.
Our third narrator, Anna, is heard from less than the other two, but is no less important. Anna Watson is Rachel's ex-husband's new wife. To be more specific, Anna is the other woman, who got pregnant and then married to her freshly divorced lover. Then, moved into her new husband's house that he lived in with his ex-wife. To say that Rachel and Anna don't get along would be the understatement of the century. Anna means well but, is, frankly, a little naive and A LOT passive aggressive. She falls into the classic other woman trap of blaming the wife for the husband's transgressions. But, Anna is a generally harmless woman who is a little too trusting and not great a decision making. However, her utter disdain for Rachel colors her narration, making her unreliable as well, and makes her come off as pretty unlikable at first. Assuming, of course, that you actually like Rachel, despite her faults. But, as we get further into the book, Anna gives us some valuable perspective and knowledge. So, she's not a total loss.
And, of course, we have a whole host of other characters. There are our two leading men, Tom Watson and Scott Hipwell. They are at the same time very much alike and very different. I can't say too much more about either of them without giving away things I would rather you discover on your own. We also have Rachel's eminently patient roommate Kathy; as well as a pair of detectives, one the helpful caring gentleman and the other the stereotypical overly aggressive female. a psychologist, another drunken stranger that Rachel meets on the train and a handful of others, including Rachel's mother, round out the cast. Ms. Hawkins has created a great world with these characters. They are life-like and interesting to read.
I had a good time reading this book. The story is right up my alley. I am a sucker for a good crime drama. However, my penchant for crime novels and TV has, I think, desensitized me to the eventual conclusion to the story. Anyone who's seen/read as much crime drama as I have, won't be shocked to hear the ending. I was only mildly suspicious of the culprit at first, when they revealed who it was and why they had done it, I was really not surprised at all, given the reason for the crime. Don't get me wrong, it is still a good ending. But, it is not a new or especially messed up ending, like Gone Girl was. I've seen this book be compared to Gone Girl in several different places. And while they are similar, I didn't think this was nearly as fucked up as that was. Though, again, that might just be my jaded, crime drama saturated mind talking. Some might find it even more shocking than Gone Girl.
There are a lot of good twists and turns in this story though. And, because of the way it is told, a lot of good reveals of information we've been hankering for. It is a very interesting way to tell a story. Though, it has it's drawbacks as well. This book does start slowly. It takes some time to get situated into the plot and into Rachel's head. You have to get used to her mindset. Because she's often drunk or on her way to drunk, this takes a little time. And, you have to have patience with the unreliability of the narrators. But, once you get used to the pace and style of the book, it is really quite good. I was a little worried because my husband gave up on it and we generally have similar taste in books. But, I stuck with it and I am very glad that I did. It was the perfect break I needed after the massive tome of historical fiction and drama that is Dragonfly in Amber or Outlander #2.
Overall, I liked this book quite a lot. And, I am intrigued by the movie adaptation in the works. Because so much of it is told from inner narration, I think it's going to be a little hard to translate to the big screen. But, I'll definitely give it a shot. This book has the potential, if done right, to make a great movie.
Well, Saucy Readers, that's it from me. Have you read The Girl on the Train? Did you enjoy it? Or if you haven't read it, have I convinced you to? Let me know below!