The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin Group)
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Subgenres: Thriller & Suspense, Crime, Suspense
Traveling to and from London on a daily commuter train is Rachel, a divorced alcoholic whose drinking destroyed her marriage and career. Part of her trip every day is spent passing her old house, which backs up to the tracks and reminiscing about her former life with ex-husband, Tom. Rachel anticipates a glimpse of the seemingly perfect couple who moved in a few houses down and often spend time on their terrace, imagining details about their lives and marriage.
Her memory, judgment and actions are called into question after she witnesses the wife with another man on the terrace. Things rapidly spin out of control. One person is dead, Rachel is injured, and has no memory of the night but that she went to her old neighborhood loaded on alcohol. She battles her affinity for drink after that night, intruding in the lives of many in pursuit of her memories, and the killer. In the end, she realizes the truth could be found closer to home than she expected.
The Girl on the Train starts at a snail’s pace despite the underlying theme of days and trains rushing by. The reader spends the first forty-plus pages suffering through Rachel’s self-destruction and Megan’s self-loathing before a spark is lit. The picture-perfect life Rachel imagined for the couple she called “Jess and Jason” has been shattered. Megan (or “Jess”) tells parts of her story from a separate POV on a separate timeline, requiring some page flipping to keep the timelines straight.
Despite the unsympathetic protagonist and supporting characters, and an inclination to shelve it for something else, I read on. At page fifty-three I came across the inciting incident. Hooray! The plot took hold, but the characters never did. That’s not to say the characters aren’t developed through the story. Rachel begins the slow and painful climb up from rock bottom, but it came too late in the story to for me to find her likeable. Megan strives to flush out her inner demons and make reparations for her behavior.
Overall, I’m lukewarm about The Girl on the Train. I liked it enough. Was worth the read? Hrm. Yes. Would I recommend it to busy moms? Only to those who have the patience to get through almost forty pages of character development without a great deal of action or tension. Beyond that point, the story arc is well-crafted and eventually picks up pace, with less time being devoted to tales of Rachel’s woes and Megan’s anxiety, and more time amidst action and dialogue.
The Girl on the Train is a good book with well-orchestrated tension and suspense, despite some of the early structure and other disappointments. One of the elements I found most maddening was the introduction of a third narrator. The addition comes much further into the book and immediately indicated that either this supporting character, or someone closely associated with her, was involved in the incident. Ms. Hawkins does make a valiant effort to keep other suspects in the fray until the very end. Some of the actions of those suspects ended up seeming out of character, or worse, inauthentic, making them more caricatures than believable characters. In speaking of the end, but without spoiling the details of the incident or the perpetrator, all I will say is that Ms. Hawkins wrote a satisfying and believable ending. There’s believable resolution for Rachel and the other narrators, and justice for the incident through defendable actions.
Happy reading and happy trails!