Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
No. of Pages: 336
Origins: Riverhead Hardcover
Release Date: 13 January 2015
Bottom Line: Impressive thriller but not necessarily mind-blowing
“Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.”
Thoughts: There are two main reasons why readers will enjoy The Girl on the Train but not love or rave about it. For one thing, the female characters are perfect examples of common feminine tropes. First, there is the woman who views all other women as competition. Her life revolves around turning the heads of men and being the most desirable woman in any given room. Then there is the woman who loses herself to her man. She accepts disturbing behavior from her husband as perfectly normal, even while her therapist cautions her against the dangers of such behavior. Finally, there is the woman who falls into the pit of depression upon her divorce and still calls her ex-husband to beg to get together again several years later. None are shining examples of women, and they only serve to highlight the tension that underpins many a female relationship.
The second reason readers may feel disappointment upon finishing The Girl on the Train is the fact that it is predictable. There are a few twists, but deft readers will be able to spot the diversions within them. Then there is the big reveal that is less surprise and more confirmation that one was on the right path towards solving the mystery. The fact that most readers will be able to predict at least one or two of the major plot twists underpins the thriller elements and prevents the story from becoming extraordinary.
What saves the story from becoming just another unreliable narrator suspense is the depth of emotion throughout the story. One may not like her behavior towards her ex-husband, but there is no denying the girl has many issues, of which her alcoholism is just one facet. The underlying causes of her alcoholism are heart-breaking, and her inability to articulate her issues to her loved ones makes the entire situation worse. One wants Rachel to recover and regain control over her life, feels frustration with every relapse and joy with every step in the right direction. Megan is similarly damaged, evoking comparable feelings of empathy in readers. Together, these ladies carry the emotional heart of the novel and of the readers.
While it is easy to thoroughly enjoy the action and the thrills of The Girl on the Train, it is ultimately one of those novels that can never live up to the generated hype. Readers looking for the next big mind-blowing novel are only going to experience disappointment. This does not mean it is a terrible novel; in fact, it is anything but that. It is just not the type of novel that will leave readers speechless and anxious to discuss it with strangers on the street.