The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ~~ a book review

the girl on the train, paula hawkins, book review, thriller review, midlife, boomers

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train.

It’s an intriguing set-up for The Girl on the Train and you can’t help but wonder if the writer can do the premise justice.

I’d had my eye on this book since seeing it likened – almost relentlessly – to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Book comparisons aren’t always helpful. You never know what the referrer is comparing. Character? Suspense? Style? Narrative? Themes? But I’d loved Gone Girl (the book and the movie and even Gillian Flynn’s darker piece Sharp Objects) and figured this was worth the read.

I was not disappointed.

A whodunnit thriller that’s well-plotted and populated by lusciously flawed characters – it’s a recipe for a great read. And Paula Hawkins has done the genre proud with The Girl on the Train.

The characters span as many shady archetypes as you can imagine: drunk, liar, cheat, unprofessional professional, murderer, psychopath, woman scorned and more. Take your pick.

Then there are the secrets – the humungous secrets so deep you carry them a lifetime and the smaller trifling fibs that fester and bubble into trouble. Sliding door moments wedded with gaping open wounds. Paula Hawkins delivers a many-layered narrative with twists and revelations aplenty, all played out against a backdrop of ordinary, relatable lives and circumstances.

All those elements combine to create a pacey reader experience. The kind where you’re screaming at the character No! Don’t do that! Why would you do that? What are you thinking! all the while knowing exactly what she’s thinking and that there’s a good chance you’d do the same stupid thing if you were in her shoes.

There’s lots of remembering and drunk forgetting. The forgetting entangles the storyline more while the remembering gradually reveals the truth, slow enough in places to have you thinking almost any of the characters could be the villain. I found some slow patches at the beginning but the pace soon picked up and transfixed me to the very end. And what a gripping climax it is!

I understand the Gone Girl comparisons. The books share a similar style of alternating chapter narrators (all unreliable), along uncorrelated timelines. But I found more sympathy for the characters in The Girl on the Train than I did for those in Gone Girl. Flawed and totally whacko, the lot of them, but Hawkins’ characters had me caring what happened to them. I wanted resolution, for all to be OK for Rachel, who in many ways seemed a victim of circumstance – except when I was wondering if she might be intrinsically evil or deluded! In contrast, I loved hating the characters in Gone Girl; I felt they deserved one another.

Climb on board The Girl on The Train for a slow-reveal thriller, cleverly penned and brilliantly populated with characters who will keep you intrigued and second-guessing yourself until the very end.

Or, if you prefer the movie-first-book-second routine, you don’t have long to wait for the movie. It’s due out October 2016. Check the chilling trailer out here:

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