Review: “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

I wish I could describe the kind of rush I feel when I walk into my library and see there, on the “Hot Books” shelf, a book I’ve been dying to read for a while. You know those books that everyone is reading and always tweet about how crazy the ending is, so you have FOMO and need to have that book right now before someone “accidentally” spoils it for you? Okay, maybe that’s a crazy reader thing that only I experience, but I, like everyone else, know what it’s like to want to be a part of the latest reading craze and have to wait until the opportune moment when the book is actually available at the exact time you’re in the library. So, to see The Girl on the Train sitting on the shelf by the front door, practically waiting for me, I would not be exaggerating to say I skipped with glee immediately to the check out.

The Girl on the Train opens with Rachel Watson, seemingly a normal woman enjoying a normal beverage on her normal ride home from her job in London on the commuter rail. As she stares out the window, she always takes the time to look at one particular house near one of the stations, where a man and a woman live. Rachel makes up stories about who this couple is and what their lives are like she gazes at their cozy home from her seat. (As someone who rides the MBTA commuter rail through the Massachusetts suburbs to Boston multiple times a year, I could definitely relate to Rachel’s dreamy sentimentality. I too imagine what’s going on in the quiet neighborhoods as my train barrels through them.)

However, Rachel is not how she initially appears. That simple drink she has on the train ride is a prelude to the countless other drinks she has a day. She’s not riding the train to and from work; she rides the train, so she doesn’t have to explain to her roommate that she was fired. Even her last name, Watson, is a farce; Watson was the name of her ex-husband, Tom, who has since divorced her and remarried, but like his last name, she can’t seem to let him go. The house she gazes so longingly at, the couple so in love in her mind, are strangers who live down the street from her old house, when she was sober, when she was truly a Watson.

As to be expected, since Rachel deceives to the reader from sentence one, she finds her tangled up in a crime. On a night she cannot remember, the girl from the house she watches from the train goes missing. Driven by the bond forged in drunken imaginings through the pane of a train window, Rachel cannot help but insert herself into the investigation, equal parts looking for answers to her lost night and yearning from a meaning her life has been missing. And as all good thrillers go, you are never quite expecting what happens in that final act (unless you’re someone like my dad, who literally can figure out the end of any thriller, even the most surprising ones like Mystic River, but I digress).

The Girl on the Train has been called the “next Gone Girl” for very obvious reasons. Like in Gone Girl, the story unfolds through the eyes of three women, each with their own secrets to hide. We have Rachel, our down-on-her-luck alcoholic, who does the majority of our storytelling. We have Anna, Tom’s new wife and mother of his baby girl, who resents the every-lurking presence of Rachel and believes she has sinister intentions. And we have Megan, the woman with a seemingly charmed life that Rachel watches from the train, our girl-gone-missing who has more than a few skeletons to hide.

We are shuffled through this trifecta of women, each revealing more and more to the mystery, as we encountered with the back-and-forth tales of Nick and Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel. But this isn’t man vs. wife. These women are more like three separate women, each captivating and flawed circles of a Venn diagram whose small intersection ties them together through the pages of this novel. Each builds upon the other like Lego upon Lego until you, at the climax, are gripping the edges of the book with tense hands, hardly believing this is where we are.

As this is becoming a movie this year, with the lovely Emily Blunt taking the role of our unreliable main character Rachel, I want to express how excited I am about this book/movie for women. Not because it’s feminist or pro-women-helping-women. Because it’s not. If you’re looking for warm and fuzzy friendships, check out The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. 

But I love this novel for the three complex women we have here. Rachel is a mess who can’t seem to pick up the pieces of her life without dropping one and the others following when she reaches down to grab it. Anna is unabashedly unapologetic for the way she weaseled between Rachel and Tom, but feels self-righteously justified in her anger at Rachel’s lingering presence. Megan, who could have been our flat-character disappearance victim, constantly surprises with her attempts to disrupt her seemingly perfect life that she seems to believe she doesn’t deserve. How cool that three actresses in Hollywood will get the chance to play something a little meatier than the go-to archetypes of damsel or femme fatale or sassy best friend. These women were very interesting in their own ways, and even I was surprised by some of the choices they made.

So, if you’re looking a book that will keep you reading into the darkness of night, having to muffle your “Oh my god, are you kidding me?”s in hopes of not waking your roommate or partner up, definitely pick up The Girl on the Train. It’s a quick-read, and it won’t let you do until the bitter end (I myself had to read the last couple pages a few times over).

Until Next Time,
Casey Brown | Gal about Town

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