Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Reader beware! Once you start turning the pages of this mystery, you will be hooked. You will neglect other aspects of your life to keep reading. You will require post-reading discussion, so maybe read this book with a friend or book club.
The summary of this book introduces the reader to Rachel, a train commuter, who has been watching the same husband and wife on their deck from the train window for months. After she sees something shocking, Rachel tells the police and sets into motion events where she has potentially done more harm than good.
The summary compares this store to a Hitchcockian thriller. And there is most definitely a Rear Window aspect to this plot-driven mystery. The narrators are all unreliable in one aspect or another, so figuring out what has really occurred is quite fun.
One detail that becomes apparent within the opening chapter is that Rachel has a drinking problem. Her imagination appears overly stimulated. She's escaping into other people's lives because hers is such a mess.
However, Rachel is still likable. Aspects of her life are relatable. She thinks things like, "The sense of shame I feel about an incident is proportionate not just to the gravity of the situation, but also to the number of people who witnessed it."
She knows she has reached a new low. She's not exactly sure how she got here or how to get out of her rut. Even though her life is beyond mundane, I never tired of her narration. Much of the plot hinges on Rachel's perception. Her perception of herself and her perception of the people around her. All of this perception has been influenced by alcohol and her overactive imagination.
While Rachel is the main character, if you pick up the book and look over the table of contents, you will see the chapters are broken up into the names of three women: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. The other two women are important to the plot, but their narration doesn't get as many pages as Rachel's does.
Having the narration split up amongst these three characters quickly moves the plot along. Unlike other books that change up narrative perspective, I wanted to hear from each woman. Every time. I never dreaded a chapter change because the narration was going to rotate. Instead, each woman reveals details that kept my attention and kept me wondering about what the heck was going on in this seemingly sleepy suburban neighborhood!
Around the half-way point of this book, I realized that I was going to have to commit to finishing the story. So many people have compared this novel to Gone Girl that I knew the unstoppable reading point would surface.
And it did, around the last fifth of the book. Would I compare this story to Gone Girl?
Not exactly. Gone Girl was darker. Much darker. Plus Gone Girl felt more personal because that story centered around the relationship of one husband and wife. The Girl on the Train has more characters from different families interacting, so while it has aspects of the psychological thriller where I kept wondering who did what and why, it wasn't nearly as disturbing as Gone Girl.
The Girl on the Train explores how closely neighbors, friends, couples, lovers, husbands, and wives know each other, but at the resolution of The Girl on the Train, the plot strands are nicely tied together. The character who emerges as the antagonist remains a bit of a mystery, as that character should. The rest of the characters move on, and as a reader, I'm not concerned about them at all. They'll all be fine. I walked away from Gone Girl wondering how those characters would continue to exist.
Gone Girl is a reading experience that takes the term psychological thriller to new heights of creepiness. While The Girl on the Train isn't nearly as disturbing or creepy, it's still a solid mystery, well worth a read.