The Girl on the Train Paperback – 5 May 2016
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"Really great suspense novel. Kept me up most of the night. The alcoholic narrator is dead perfect." (STEPHEN KING)
"The thriller scene will have to up its game if it's to match Hawkins this year" (Observer)
"A complex and increasingly chilling tale courtesy of a number of first-person narratives that will wrong-foot even the most experienced of crime fiction readers" (Irish Times)
"achieves a sinister poetry . . . Hawkins keeps the nastiest twist for last" (Financial Times)
"Hawkins' masterful deployment of unwittingly unreliable narration to evoke the aftershocks of abuse and trauma is a powerful way of exploring women's marginalization" (Huffington Post)
About the Author
PAULA HAWKINS worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling almost 20 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt.
Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller.
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There’s only so much I can or will say, because I believe this book is best savoured ‘cold’ and unspoiled. We meet our narrator, Rachel, on her train commute to and from London. On most days a red signal halts the train next to a line of townhouses whose gardens run down to the track, and Rachel has become accustomed to watching the young couple who live in the nearest house. She grows fond of them; gives them names – Jess and Jason; invents histories for them, and savours their evident happiness. In their contented companionship they seem to encapsulate everything that Rachel herself has failed to achieve, lost in a haze of of a failed marriage and alcoholism – all the more so because they live just a few doors down from the house she herself lived in with her ex-husband. Jess and Jason become totemic figures to her, a reassuring sign that love can and does really exist in the world. But then, one Friday morning, Rachel sees Jess out in her garden with another man – a stranger. A kiss is exchanged. Shocked at this ugly turn of events, and moved to protect the wronged Jason, Rachel decides to intervene. But she is too late.
The reason this book keeps you reading, compulsively, greedily, is because you have three narrative strands, each of them gradually adding more pieces to the jigsaw, each of them converging slowly but surely on that moment when everything will make sense. Our three narrators are not necessarily liars, but they’re unreliable: they tell us only part of the story, or they forget; they’re driven by obsession, or they remember things mistakenly. And, as the story deepens, we come to realise that everyone has their own demons and that one’s fantasies of the perfect couple one spots from the train, in the midst of one’s own dull, unexciting life, are only that – a fantasy – perhaps darker and more dangerous than one could ever imagine.
And another thing about this book – it lingers. I feel positively tainted by its unsettling story – somehow dirty, uneasy, guilty. It’s a very strong piece of work, fast-paced and threatening, and I suggest you read it now, if you haven’t already.
For the full review, please see my blog.
One of the challenges of a story like this is whether to believe any of the multiple first person narrators. Rachel, the eponymous girl on the train, is an alcoholic who forgets bits of her life. Important bits too. The other narrators don't always tell the truth either. This may be a stylistic device but, ultimately, I want to care about characters in books, and I didn't really give a fig about what happened to any of them. The corkscrew in the neck is daft as well. It might hurt but you'd have to twist it as if pulling the cork from a nice chablis to go deep enough to cause death and most people won't behave like a bottle of wine. I can see the irony of a story involving an alcoholic finishing with a coup de corkscrew but it doesn't convince.
OK if you want to while away a few hours on a warm beach somewhere.
The novel moves backwards and forwards through time, telling the stories of three women, each in the first person, and this gives the narrative an intimacy and directness, which it might not have, if it were told in the third person.
The main protagonist, Rachel, sits on a train, watching the activities in the houses along the track, in particular, the road where she once lived happily with her husband.
As a writer, I could imagine the author sitting on that train, observing and writing what she saw, until suddenly the plot came to her.
In a voyeuristic fashion, Rachel focuses on a particular house where an apparently loving couple seem to live the sort of life that she once lived, before breaking up with her husband, and she fantasises about this other husband, and feels outrage, when it seems his trust has been broken. So far, any story is mainly in her head, but then the wife disappears, and Rachel gets involved in her disappearance.
The novel then moves back a year so that the wife - Megan can describe her life, and what happens to cause her disappearance, and eventually, half way through the book, jumping forward to the present again, Anna appears, Anna being the ‘other woman’, who is now married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. The three narratives are woven together like a plait, as gradually to story takes shape, and eventually, the truth emerges.
The women’s names are all rather similar, all two syllables, and I wondered if this was deliberate, because in some respects, though on the surface apparently different, they are alike in some respects. None of them are very likeable, although once you are inside someone’s head, you can’t help having some empathy with them.
From a readability point of view, this really drew me in, but not only are the women rather unpleasant, or dysfunctional, the men aren’t very nice, either. So from that point of view, I can’t quite give it full marks, because I like to like the characters I’m spending my time with. So 9 out of 10, but probably 5 stars, here, just the same.