The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

"I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head."

There is no denying that one of last year's "it" books was The Girl on the Train by debut author Paula Hawkins. Everywhere I looked, it seemed people were reading the book! Amongst my fellow reviewers, reaction to the novel was pretty polarizing. They either loved it or couldn't even stand to finish it. I'll admit that I had a slight aversion to jumping on the band wagon. I've voiced my disapproval of book's that contain the word "girl" in the title just to draw a comparison to Gone Girl. I feared that this would be yet another subpar imitation of that novel. As I started reading it, however, I soon found that I couldn't have been more mistaken.

Life has been hard on Rachel. The grief of not being able to conceive a child eventually took its toll on her marriage. As depression settled in, Rachel turned to alcohol to ease the pain. Her husband turned to another woman. Now, Rachel's life is nothing more than a mundane routine of work and self medication. Each morning she rides the train to work, passing the home she once shared. For a brief instance, she can see into the homes of her former neighborhood. One young couple in particular draws her attention, and she begins to fantasize about their seemingly perfect life.

This voyeuristic curiosity soon begins to take over Rachel's life. She looks forward to her twice daily glimpse into the couple's perfect relationship. Besides alcohol, the story of Jason and Jess (names that Rachel has assigned) becomes her escape from the depression that clouds her mind. Soon reality invades Rachel's fantasy and shatters the idealistic narrative that that she constructed. The Jess has gone missing and the Jason seems to be the primary suspect. Determined to help the couple and to preserve the one part of her life that is positive, Rachel contacts the police to tell them about everything she has watched. But how can the police trust the word of someone who has never even met the couple? More so, how can they seriously consider the word of a woman who gets blackout drunk every evening?

In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins uses an unreliable narrator to cloud her otherwise straightforward thriller into a murky mirage of uncertainty. Through her consistently inconsistent recollections, Rachel attempts to string together a narrative that is mired in alcohol induced chasms. For her part, Hawkins does an admiral job getting us to care for Rachel. She is a character who seems to be the sole enabler of her misfortunes, but the backstory that Hawkins provides gives her both depth and sympathy. Even though I guessed the conclusion a few pages before it was revealed, the pulse pounding suspense that permeated every moment toward that discovery more than made up for that flaw. The Girl on the Train is a cleverly plotted novel that deserves every bit of the acclaim it has received. If this debut is any indication of things to come in Hawkins career, I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 19)

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2 Responses to “The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins”

  1. I listened to this on audio Ethan, and have to agree it was well done. I am a huge fan of unreliable narrators and love that unsettled feeling of what is real and what is imagined. Great review!

    1. Thanks! If unreliable narrators are your thing, be sure to check out Trust No One by Paul Cleave.


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