The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

GOTT

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (2015)

I realise that I’m the last person to read this book but nevertheless, here’s my take on it. The Girl on the Train has been a stupidly massive success globally, with a movie on the way. So my question was, does it live up to the hype?

You don’t know her. But she knows you.

Our lead protagonist is a woman called Rachel. Far from being a girl, she is recently divorced, in her early thirties and her life is unravelling. Every day she catches the commuter train into London and every day it waits at the same signal overlooking a row of houses. Rachel sits in the same part of the train every day and watches the same house, making up names and characters for the couple who live there, drinking their coffee in the garden as she travels into London, their glasses of wine in the evening as she returns home. One day she looks into the same garden and sees something unexpected. This begins her involvement in the lives of this couple who know nothing about her, but who she has been watching.

It’s no surprise to find out that Rachel is an unreliable narrator. We quickly discover her to be an alcoholic, downing cans of premixed G&Ts on the train home each evening and stopping off to buy white wine two bottles at a time. She lives with an old uni friend, who she admits she never got along with, after the end of her marriage to Tom. She wakes the morning after yet another solitary bender to find that she called Tom multiple times but cannot remember doing it. He’s in a new relationship and begs her to leave them alone.

Rachel is not the sole narrator. Megan is the woman whose house Rachel peers into each day, Anna is the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband. To have three women narrating was interesting, although at times their voices became too similar to work as well as they could have. None of them were likeable, all three of them lied continuously, to themselves as well as everyone around them. It would have been a nice contrast to have at least one of them be a little more sympathetic. Perhaps reading this novel on the weekend of Brexit was a mistake as it didn’t exactly help to restore my faith in humanity! Apart from the long-suffering Cathy, reluctant flatmate of the alcoholic Rachel, everyone in the novel is morally dodgy at best.

So what is my verdict? I thought the novel worked well. To tie up the different strands of narrative, Megan’s taking place in an earlier timeframe than Rachel and Anna’s, was ingenious. I did guess the ending but not far in advance enough to ruin it, and most people I’ve spoken to didn’t. I think the success of the novel has come down to Rachel. Not necessarily her as a character, as no one would want to have her life, but because she serves as a warning to us. Just as I catch the train to work each morning, passing past houses on the way, so do many of us. Loads of us like a drink, and it is the glimpses into Rachel’s old life that show us a shocking decline that could befall any of us. This central premise is what has captured the attention of so many. That the plot keeps us hooked right the way through is testament to Hawkin’s perfect plotting, weaving the strands of Rachel and Megan’s testimonies to bring us to a thrilling conclusion.

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