The Girl on the Train: Paula Hawkins, February 16—26, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
The Girl on the Train is a tense thriller about a missing woman, told by multiple narrators in a non-linear arrangement. It might sound like Gone Girl, and has been heavily compared to it, but the comparison does both a disservice.
The most prominent narrator is Rachel Watson, an infertile alcoholic who has been divorced and fired and is staying with a university friend while pretending to put her life back together. She is the titular girl on the train, and while pretending to go to work each day she looks longingly at the street she used to live in, fantasting about a perfect couple she often sees. The other narrators are Anna, her husband’s new wife who lives in the same house as they used to, and Megan, one half of Rachel’s perfect girl and the one who goes missing.
Megan’s disappearance draws Rachel into their lives, having observed them from the train for some time. She believes she has information that might help. Soon, the three households become rapidly entwined in each other’s dramas.
None of the characters are immediately likeable, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for Rachel. She may be her own worst enemy, but it wouldn’t do her any harm to catch a break. Hawkins does well to maintain such a tight cast, keeping a very small core of characters central to all of the action. They all have backstories, all have secrets and are all very carefully devised, though none of them have any particularly distinct personality.
There are some surprises in store along the way, though the pace is sluggish in parts and the ending isn’t particularly difficult to predict. The Girl on the Train instead provides some compelling character drama; this is a real study in how people affect each other, the impact that one life has on another, and how each person is the sum of their history. It traces the butterfly effect of relationships and lies.
There may be some delays, but The Girl on the Train is well worth the ride.