I thought I’d start the new year with a bang, and review Paula Hawkins’ thriller The Girl on the Train, which I read over the Christmas break. This is a book that has received a lot of press and deservedly so – it’s intense with a slow burn and building tension that hooks you in right from the start.
Rachel catches the train into London every morning on her way to work, or so she’s been telling her flatmate. On the daily commute she’s watches the backyards that face the rail line and has fixated on the residents of one particular residence. She names them ‘Jess and Jason’ and based on the snippets of their interactions that she sees as the train slows and stops for a minute each day, she fabricates a fantasy life for the couple. Then, one day, Rachel witnesses Megan (aka ‘Jess’) with another man, and not long after Jess goes missing. She is certain that she has seen something important, that she can help find Megan.
Rachel has problems of her own. She’s a divorced, jobless alcoholic who is pretending to go to work every day, and can’t quite seem to let go of her ex-husband, Tom, who has married Anna, and now has a baby. The one thing Rachel wanted but couldn’t have was a baby. Her ex-husband lives a few doors down from ‘Jess and Jason’, and Rachel has on occasion paid Anna and Tom a visit, but can’t always remember what happened because she’s so drunk she has blackouts.
Rachel’s desire to feel important, to be needed, lead her to involve herself in the investigation surrounding Megan’s disappearance. Along the way she is forced to confront her own actions and she wrestles with her inner demons and desires to reach for a drink at every moment. She’s unreliable, desperate, and despite her best intentions she gets herself into a deeper and deeper mess with her ex, her flatmate and the police. Rachel’s alcoholism makes her an unreliable witness to her own life, and the frustration that she feels at not being able to remember events is palpable. She’s sure that she saw something important, if only she could remember that night at the train station. She just needs to somehow regain those lost moments so that she can help find Megan.
Narrated by three different characters, all as unreliable as each other, all with secrets of their own to hide, this is a thriller that does not disappoint. But, don’t expect it to be a big, bold in-your-face action thriller. The Girl on a Train travels at a slower pace, circling and escalating that tension. There is a clever layering and intertwining of lives and events that snake around each other, revealing little by little clues to Megan’s disappearance. Addictive reading at it’s best. Once you start it, you won’t want to put it down.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Transworld Publishers 2015)
Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/PaulaHawkinsWriter/