Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train starts off as find-myself chick lit, but quickly morphs into a mystery thriller as well as a textbook example of the unreliable narrator technique.

Alcoholic divorcee Rachel takes the same train into London every day to conceal from her roommate the fact that she was fired months ago. Everyday she passes the same scenery, the same stops, the same homes, including the home where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom. Just a few houses down from the home now sheltering her ex, his new wife and their baby, a young married couple catches Rachel's eye. She creates a fantasy life for them in her head complete with names - Jason and Jess - jobs, vacations, and a fun, flirty and loving relationship, until the day she sees Jess kissing someone other than Jason. Outraged by the betrayal, Rachel debates confronting Jess or telling Jason until she sees Jess's face on the front page of the newspaper. She's gone missing and now Rachel worries that the unknown lover could be at fault and Jess could be in danger.

Narrating duties alternate between Rachel and Anna (Tom's new wife) in the present, and Megan (Jess's real name) in the past leading up to her disappearance. All three of the women are unreliable narrators in their own way, whether because of self-deception, willful ignorance, or substance abuse. But somehow, clarity comes through the combination of the unreliability of all three. Hawkins deftly weaves the story through the unreliability so that each narrator is absolutely true to herself and what she thinks, feels, understands, and sees, but at the same plants the elements of doubt and questioning in their narration.

Loneliness and depression are also common threads that run between the three women. All three are seeking happiness and resolution and are stymied by their own self-doubt and the men in their lives. Feelings of inadequacy and ambivalence regarding motherhood, pregnancy, and infertility complicate their quests to move forward from "playing at real life instead of actually living it."

While I personally found the ultimate resolution and "bad guy" revelation a bit predictable, it was still a creepy joy ride for a day or two, if you like that kind of thing, and I appreciate Hawkins drawing three very different and interesting female characters. I'm intrigued to see how it comes to life on the big screen.

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
ISBN: 9781594633669
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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