The Girl on the Train is a debut novel by Paula Hawkins, a former journalist. It’s one of those books that exploded onto the book scene, smashing expectations and maintaining instant bestseller-hood for some time. I kept hearing about it and finally decided that I needed to read it at some point. Last week I sat down with an e-copy and finally plowed through it. It was quite the read.
Most people lead secret lives that they do not want others to see. Rachel has her own secrets, but she enjoys peering in on others from the train, imagining what their lives might be like. One of her fantasies involves “Jason” and “Jess”, a picture-perfect couple who live doors down from her ex-husband. Rachel also envisions her ex’s new life with Anna, the mother of his child whom he cheated on Rachel with. Now, an alcoholic, Rachel’s visions become unreliable, but she can’t help but believe that she saw something abominable, particularly when a woman goes missing.
Now she questions everything – those who live in her former neighbourhood, those who interact with her former husband, with his new wife and child, with Jason and Jess, whom Rachel now knows to be Scott and Megan Hipwell. Megan has gone missing and everything (and everyone) is suspect – including Rachel, who was in the neighbourhood acting strangely the very night that Megan disappeared.
Caught up in the investigation, Rachel becomes a driving force to everyone and everything else involved. She befriends Scott and tells him what she knows, the secrets that she saw Megan living whilst he was away. The trouble is that since Rachel has become a drunk no one believes her good intentions. For the past several months Rachel has lied to everyone about her life – her roommate, her ex, her mother…Rachel lives an invented life soaked in cheap booze and thrill-seeking rides on the train to keep her cover. Her vicarious yearnings to be back in her home trump everyone’s lives around her. She continuously calls her ex, disrupting his new life and alienating Anna in the process. She misbehaves at every turn, manipulating and cruelly hurting those that are kind to her.
And still she rings true as a narrator, a woman with an unreliable voice who doesn’t know her own actions. Is she the killer? Is she somehow involved? Does she really know who did the deed? Is she hiding from the truth?
Hawkins has written a very powerful book; a page-turner in every sense of the word. I became obsessed and could not put it down. Rachel’s voice was powerful and commanding, pitch-perfect for everyone who has every known alcoholism and seen its effects. My only gripe with the book was its ending, which I personally found a bit lackluster and flat. I did not see it coming, but when it did it lacked a bit of the punch that I was hoping for.
That said, the book lives up to the hype. It’s intense and suspenseful and worthy of its praise. I would gladly read anything else by Hawkins without blinking an eye. She sets a high bar for a powerful thriller.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
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