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.
So I’m going to read it but glad to know that it’s not going to carry the punch that they’ve been hyping.
I will be curious what you think of it now that you have tempered expectations.
I guess this one is not calling to me. I’ve done the Gone Girl and might be good for awhile in that regard.
That is perfectly okay too. I’m getting very tired of those books trying to be the next Gone Girl without really doing anything different.
By the time I get around to this book the hype will likely have died down anyway… I still haven’t read Gone Girl. lol
I much prefer Gone Girl. Then again, I read it when it was still very new, and there were no spoilers out there about it. Plus, the unreliable narrator had not yet been done to death. I would be curious what you think of Gone Girl reading it for the first time now. Is it one that only works with no spoilers or does it still work well even if you have an idea of the plot?
Just drafted a review on this one as well. It wasn’t perfect IMO, but still enjoyable.
I haven’t started this one yet because I was waiting to see if there was going to be a more tempered review of it. Now I have more realistic expectations and will probably like it much better than if I’d only heard glowing reviews.
I will definitely be looking for your review to find out if your more realistic expectations helped or not!
Thanks for your honest and thorough review! I’ve definitely been hearing a lot of hype around this one, so I’m going to try to curb my expectations when I read it. Hype seems one of the easiest ways to be disappointed in a mystery/thriller, but a lot of these types of books still have a lot to offer even if they aren’t the most unpredictable.
Right. I did enjoy reading it, even though I did not do a very good job of showing it in my review. For me, at least, it falls into the same bucket as so many other novels that have come before it and must stand in the shadows of Gone Girl. It is not new and therefore can never measure up to the original.
Great post! I finished this one last week, and feel like I could copy and paste your post into my review (don’t worry, I won’t!). I was rooting for Rachel to get it together all the way until the end.
I’m glad others can relate to my feelings on this one. I struggled with it because I did like the story, even though I really dislike the characters and could predict the ending.
Great post! I always appreciate your honest, balanced reviews.
I’ve been seeing this one everywhere but the description of the woman on the train in the blurb has been a turn off for me. I’m bored of the Girl With All the Issues trope. I’m going to hold off.
I understand completely. I don’t blame you.
Yes… the hype factor is what kept me from accepting the ARC but it didn’t stop me from using a book credit to buy it for my Kindle.
I will be curious what you think of it. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make my month. I’ll probably forget about it in a few weeks.
I’m about a third of the way through this one. I’ve stopped and started it a couple of times. Sigh. I hear what you say and agree. And I did not like GONE GIRL, even though I finished it. That says something because I do not finish books that I don’t like or I guess I should say I rarely finish them. There’s no “must” in my reading world. I’ve decided that maybe I’ve read too many mysteries and thrillers. I don’t know how to approach a book like this without picking apart the narrative and mistrusting everything. I could not understand the absolute love that so many had for GONE GIRL, but then I couldn’t understand the love for 50 SHADES either. LOL
I’ll likely finish this one. Maybe. No, I will at this point. But, I’m about done with this whole awful people do awful things and we’re charmed.
I think Gone Girl is one you don’t love for the characters; goodness knows they were all horrible people who really did deserve each other. It was the depths to which they would go to harm the other and the surprising depravity of it all, given how innocuous and All-American they were on the surface. No one LIKES Amy and Nick; they like that Amy and Nick were able to fool everyone, including themselves, for so long. At least, that is my take on the phenomenon. As for 50 Shades, I am proud that I never went down that rabbit hole. I’m all for erotica, but at least let it be well-written and unique!
The characters in The Girl on the Train don’t have any of that innocent appearance or at least their behavior is not quite as extreme; nor was there anything surprising about their actions. This is where Paula Hawkins’ novel fails but where Gillian Flynn’s novel succeeded. It always helps to be the first trendsetter, and now exhaustion is definitely kicking in when it comes to awful characters narrating.
I enjoyed this one a lot, but I agree that it wasn’t mind blowing at all. I liked the suspense of it. It did keep me guessing, for the most part. But it was hard for me to like any of the characters, which left me feeling disconnected most of the time. Overall, it was a fun mystery and a quick read. 🙂
Agreed. I worry that those who are expecting the next BIG book, a la Gone Girl, are going to be sorely disappointed. I didn’t like any of the characters either, if you couldn’t already tell. A sorry bunch of women all around. Still, I did have fun reading it. I know I didn’t do a very good job of expressing that.