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?
Paula Hawkins has written the first big breakout novel of 2015. It's been compared, over and over, to Gone Girl, which is mainly due, as far as I can tell, to being an entertaining, page-turning psychological thriller that the publishers hope will sell just as well. It is those things. Otherwise, there's no connection to Gillian Flynn's novel.
The Girl on the Train is narrated by three women; Rachel, herself, desperately unhappy and hanging together by the thinnest thread, she's still the linchpin of the novel as she tries to put the pieces back together into some sort of coherent narrative. Then there's Megan, the woman she watches so closely and whose disappearance is the central mystery of the novel. She's not as happy as she appears to be. And, finally, there's Anna, the new wife, who feels menaced by Rachel's constant appearance on their quiet street. She's got a family she loves and she won't let Rachel hurt it.
Overall, I enjoyed this suspenseful novel. While Megan and Rachel's voices and the way they experience the world are so similar, it's hard to tell them apart, each chapter is clearly marked with who is speaking and when that chapter takes place, so that the reader can follow the story as it jumps from narrator to narrator and through time. The Girl on the Train has the feel of a debut novel and there are missteps along the way, but it's a fun book with an ending that doesn't feel like a cheat. I look forward to seeing what Hawkins writes next as this novel showed promise.
I would have abandoned the entire book 60 pages in but since it was my book club selection I had to persevere. I had it figured out very quickly and it really didn't hold my interest.
Can't figure out what the big hoopla was all about but I can tell you that I won't be going to see the movie when it's made.
I won’t go into plot details in any depth as so much has been written about this book already. It’s a great character study of a group of dis-likeable, damaged people. I started the book with a certain amount of sympathy for Rachel, but, as with all drunks, she started to wear on me and I lost patience with her. As the layers kept getting peeled back and more and more of their lives were revealed, the reader becomes aware that no one in this book can be trusted, all are unreliable narrators. An alcoholic, a pathological liar, a cheat and homewrecker, a controlling and abusive husband, that only leaves the victim and she was a total mess! However, none of this took away from my enjoyment of the book, the author was in control of the whole proceeding and guided the story along at a great pace.
The Girl on the Train is a highly readable thriller and the fact that this is the author’s debut book is astonishing. Her ingenious take on the daily commute is original, the shifting perspectives keep the reader glued to the page and her skillful writing draws one into the story. I certainly don’t want to hang out with these characters, but they make for a very interesting read.
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.
Or has she? The story moves back and forth in time, narrated alternately by each of the three women. I am intentionally avoiding any mention of the central storyline. Suffice to say it’s a thriller about a missing person. Each chapter offers up tiny details but omits others, keeping the reader guessing. Gradually it becomes apparent that not only is the messed up, alcoholic Rachel an unreliable narrator, but so are Megan and Anna. And the men don’t exactly redeem themselves, either.
The novel moves along at a clip. I zipped through it in two days, and was grateful to have another reader at home with whom I could hash out the story. With the exception of one obvious device and a few coincidences, it’s a good story with plenty of suspense.
Rachel rides the train to London every day, keeping up the pretense that she she still has a job and a place to be. In fact she doesn't - her alcoholism has cost much - her husband, her job and her home. Adding salt to her wounds is the fact that the train makes at the station by her old neighbourhood. Twice a day, Rachel passes by this row of houses by the station. She often sees a couple she has named Jess and Jason in their garden and has created a fairy tale life for them - one she imagines she might have had. Then one day she sees Jess kissing someone else. And then she sees on the news that the woman she calls Jess is missing. Rachel takes her information to the police - but can't leave it be and she slowly insinuates herself into the investigation.....
The Girl on the Train is told from three different viewpoints - that of Rachel, the missing woman and Rachel's ex-husband's new wife.
But it is Rachel driving the story - and she is a deliciously unreliable narrator. She drinks to blackout and often cannot remember where she has been or what she has done. But the flashes of clarity she does have frighten her...
"Something happened, I know it did. I can't picture it, but I can feel it. I'm frightened, but I'm not sure what I'm afraid of, which just exacerbates the fear."
The missing woman also tells her story, leading up to the day she disappears. She too is an unreliable narrator, concealing her past and lying about her present.
Hawkins keeps the reader guessing as the story twists and turns, changing with every revelation, memory and action. Who is telling the truth? What did really happen? I had my suspicions as the number of pages left to read dwindled and literally couldn't put the book down until I finished. (Pick a nice lazy day to start The Girl on the Train - you won't want to do anything else)
Hawkins' depiction of alcoholism is troubling but highly effective as a plot device. I've also traveled by rail and was easily able to put myself in a seat looking out - wondering about someone else's life.
The Girl on the Train is a great psychological thriller and is absolutely recommended. Dreamworks Studio has also optioned the movie rights
• I am in the minority on this book as this storyline did not work well for me. This book has been at the top of best seller lists since publication.
• According to the book blurb this book should have been right up my alley as I tend to like unreliable narrators as they keep storylines interesting, words like Hitchcockian thriller had me making sure that I would be undisturbed while reading, and the concept of Rachel envisioning the lives of others while riding the train was understandable as for many years I commuted to work via trains.
• My main complaint is the main character Rachel – she is a depressive drunk (she has her reasons) that just annoyed me to the point that I was rolling my eyes for most of her scenes after awhile.
• There were three first person narrators that alternated during the course of the book – first it was mainly Rachel, then Megan (who Rachel imagined lived life as part of a perfect loving couple), and then Anna (who is now married to Rachel’s ex-husband). So the reader learns things that the other characters do not know about each other when a specific character is narrating. This worked for me though at times I think what the characters revealed was a convenient plot ploy.
• About half way through the book, as the story takes some twists and turns I think there are enough clues for the reader to figure out what happened. So no real surprises for me after this point.
• Some interesting themes run throughout the book – adultery, deception (probably one of the most interesting) and how the train meant different things to the three women.
• Overall I found the storyline slow going and I did not feel the suspense and anticipation I usually do with a psychological thriller.
• If I had a tag line for this book – it is stalled in the station.
Looking at the casting for the upcoming movie, I'm a bit disappointed that they cast a beautiful actress (Emily Blunt) instead of the wonderfully messy, overweight, falling-apart character that is described in the book.
I had actually been a little reluctant to read this book following the immense hype that has surrounded its huge success on both sides of the Atlantic, and because a lot of people had compared it to Gillian Flynn's 'Gone Girl', which I had not liked at all. In the end, I relented simply because I was on holiday and saw it on offer at a very cheap price and decided to give it a go. That was certainly a fortuitous decision.
The book takes the form of alternating narratives from Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee who regularly commutes from Hertfordshire into London on a route that passes the house where she previously li9ved with her ex-husband. She becomes intrigued by the house just four along from her old home, which she comes to observe on a regular basis as her train is invariably brought to a halt at the foot of its garden. Seeing the occupants (who had arrived since she lived in that street) she starts to imagine their life, even assigning them names and speculating about their respective jobs. Rachel is not a happy person, and as her narrative proceeds we gain an alarming insight into her lifestyle which is not as it initially seems.
Interspersed with Rachel's story we are offered Megan's narrative, which starts about a year earlier than Rachel's. Megan lives in the house that Rachel observes almost every day, but the story that she unwinds reveals a very different life from that which Rachel had imagined for her.
The portrayal of a personality unwinding, and the events that unfold as a consequence is fascinating. Hawkins combines very sharp observation with immense suspense, producing a heady and addictive brew. Having started the book I found it very difficult to put it down.
Between an alcoholic, a liar and a cheat, who can you trust while they are telling their story? That was a clever approach to a book. The unrelenting bleakness of Rachel’s situation was difficult to bear. The characters were consistently (counting my blessings) difficult to relate to, dealing with a multitude of serious dysfunction from addiction, infidelity, murder, abuse, obsession, mental illness and life-altering guilt. But I read it to the end to find out what happened…very clever of the author, if you ask me.
Perhaps her suspicions are the result of a liquor-fueled delusion; perhaps they’re simply a figment of her overworked imagination. Or could it be that Rachel actually knows something relevant regarding the woman’s disappearance, something the killer will try to keep secret no matter what the cost?
In this tale of “intrigue,” filled with neuroses and sad lives, it is impossible for the reader to feel empathy for Rachel or any of the other unlikeable, vacuous characters. They are, without exception, self-centered, tiresome, pathetic, and annoying. The extensive repetition does nothing to advance the plot; readers may resent being bogged down with so many similar descriptions of Rachel’s sadness and her regular tendency to drink herself into oblivion. With far too many coincidences driving the story, the narrative quickly become tedious; astute readers will figure out the not-so-surprising, non-Hitchcockian “twist” at the end of this tale far ahead of its long-overdue reveal.
After I saw it appearing on many "Best of 2015" lists (e.g. Goodreads Choice Awards Best Mystery & Thriller 2015, The Guardian Best Mysteries/Thrillers of 2015, etc.) I thought I would still give it a go.
Having read it now, the short version is that it is really nothing like "Rear Window", but it also wasn't that much of a thriller and the mystery element was also somewhat reduced (despite a few red herrings, the Roger Ebert "Law of the Economy of Characters" from the film world did carry over into the writing world).
If you are unsure about this novel, you can probably sample the style in the library or bookstore just from the first 10 or 20 pages or so. The suspense doesn't really change much for about 260 pages (out of a total 320 pages in my edition). So if it isn't grabbing you right from the get-go, then you are probably in for a pretty slow crawl until the twist comes.
I've seen a lot of references to "Gone Girl" in the publicity and other reviews, but I was completely swept along by "Gone Girl" and was so engrossed with switching constantly from Team Amy to Team Nick and back again. In "The Girl on the Train" I didn't find any characters to identify with or root for. All of them were unappealing and the erstwhile heroine Rachel is painted in the most unsympathetic light possible by being a messy drunk all the way through. You root for characters like Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder who are fighting their alcoholism but if a character is just wallowing in it there is no character arc or journey to root for.
This is just me. There are some very polarized views about this book, so you just have to decide which one is yours and be that.
But why was it not titled The Woman on the Train? There was no "girl" in the story.
Review: Mystery-thrillers and unreliable narrators aren't my usual fare - I probably only read them once or twice a year. But if this book is going to be my one foray into the genre this year, it was a good pick, and I absolutely understand why it's been on the receiving end of so much hype. It's told from three perspectives: Rachel's, in the "present day"; Megan's, starting about a year previously; and Anna's, Rachel's ex-husband's new wife. It becomes apparent early on that none of these women are exactly telling the truth, but it's not an "unreliable narrator" story in that the narrators are lying to us, the readers, but because they're lying to themselves. That's what makes it such an interesting book psychologically, trying to sort out what's real and what's a self-serving lie or a biased perception, and then thinking about our own lives and our own biases and blind spots. This book is very well built - there's a slow teasing out of clues and hints and a few red herrings and a gradual building of revelations and tension in equal measure. (All of which makes it hard to write an effective summary without giving too much away!) It's paced extremely effectively, and it's very easy to fall into and keep reading, waiting for each successive piece to fall into place. I didn't figure things out much before the characters did, but the resolution made good sense with what had come before, which is what I want from my mysteries (figuring it out too early's no fun, but having it be so convoluted that you can't figure it out even once it's handed to you is no fun either.) And all of this is important in keeping this book readable, because all of its characters - and I do mean pretty much all of them - are really unlikeable. Which is almost certainly a function of the "everyone's lying to everyone about everything without even knowing it" vibe of the novel, and would usually get in the way of my enjoyment of a book, but in this case I was invested enough in the mystery that I had no problem staying involved in the book and reading through it quite quickly. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Gone Girl is the obvious read-alike, with the narrators all giving self-serving versions of events. In general, if you like a good, well-plotted psychological thriller, this book will definitely fit the bill.
She points out the fact that she has an overactive imagination (and she tells us that Tom thought so too). Did something nefarious happen here or did a trainman discard some soiled garment?
Rachel is traveling toward London on the slow lurching 8:04 morning train from Ashbury. The train judders along each day and at one point passes modest Victorian houses backed up against the tracks. In the evenings, the 5:56 train creeps back past the same houses and over time she has crafted a fictional existence for the residents. Every day, coming and going, the train stops at a faulty signal for a few seconds and she gets a little more time to watch her favorite trackside house: number fifteen. Rachel doesn’t know the couple but she has named them “Jess and Jason”. In her mind’s eye, this is the idyllic couple. Jason works hard to support Jess, serves her coffee in bed and anticipates her every need. Jess stays home and languishes until Jason returns every night to keep her safe and comforted.
The train also passes by house number twenty-three. It just so happens that this was Rachel’s first home. Now divorced and despite the pain it brings, Rachel can’t pass the house she loved so much without looking at it from the train window. This day in July of 2013, Rachel observes the wife (whose name we learn is Anna) watering roses; roses that Rachel planted years ago. She also knows Anna’s husband, Tom. He had been Rachel’s husband and they had lived in that house too.
Rachel’s home for the past two years has been a spartan room rented from an old college acquaintance. They really were not friends in college and still are not although they live under the same roof…for now.
Rachel travels back and forth on the train with her favorite crutch every day; a bottle or two of booze. It is readily apparent that Rachel likes to drink. Often. A lot. Anywhere. She drowns her pain and misery and at some point most days, her memory.
The story shifts back a year to March 2012 and shows up in the master bedroom of house number fifteen. Rachel’s “Jess” is actually named Megan and she, too, uses the rhythm of the rails to stimulate her imagination. She dreams of an exotic life of adventure much further down the line; far away from the raucous train sounds. As she plans for an evening out with her husband, Megan hears loud screams and the sound of a child crying in the backyard of house number twenty-three. She observes two women struggling over a child. Finally one walks dejectedly away and the mother we know is named Anna scrambles into the house carrying her crying child. Megan becomes curious and volunteers to baby-sit to find out what the ruckus was about…
Rachel was happily married to Tom. Or so she thought. As time passes, her life crumbles as she realizes that she is incapable of bearing a child and Tom becomes disgusted and unhappy with her. She changes from an attractive wife to a frump and a drunk in Tom’s eyes. He wanders into Anna’s arms and eventually out of Rachel’s life. But not before he destroys Rachel’s confidence and mental stability. She turns to alcohol to sooth the rough edges. The deeper she falls in her depression and drunkenness, the more she loses. Eventually she has loses everything including her husband, her job, her credibility her self-respect and very nearly her only friend.
Anna is supremely happy as a mistress and falls for Tom’s charms and false adoration. She is convinced by Tom that Rachel’s alcoholism has crushed his marriage. Tom spreads the charm deep enough to swallow up Anna’s life just as he had previously with Rachel. Anna becomes pregnant. In her mind the perfect marriage has become the perfect family. Trouble blooms in paradise when Rachel refuses to believe that Tom doesn’t still love her and begins to stalk the Anna, Tom and the baby. Rachel begins to call late at night over and over.
Down the street in house number fifteen, Megan and Scott present the image of a happily married couple. Megan, however, leads a duplicitous life that she struggles to hide from Scott. Would it be fair to say that Megan is a closet nymphomaniac? Or perhaps in a kinder vein, just plain messed up and seeks pleasure in all the wrong places? Scott is very insecure and has a jealous streak a mile wide. A large imposing man, he reacts violently when provoked. Scott unable to decipher why he feels Megan is unhappy and encourages her to seek therapy. When it appears that she is happier, he is comforted. Right up until the day that she disappears. Did she run off with the therapist? Or has she become the victim of horrible tragedy.
These three households swirl in a tragic symbiotic universe where one of them pays the ultimate price with their life.
Each of the major characters is severely flawed and socially immature. Having said that, I found that the flaws of each were so similar that I had difficulty separating them and at times not sure who was speaking. They all desperately try to find individual fulfillment through the lives of someone else. They are sad group of people.
I can’t say I totally disliked the book because that is not true. I just grew weary of the Debbie-downer dreary story and had to put the book down many times to take a breather. Women having to define their image through the eyes of their husband’s depress me.
The scenes that were intended to be suspenseful just seemed drawn out to me. Unlike some very well crafted psychological thrillers that give me goose bumps, I just couldn’t get invested in the story, as it was clear to me early where the story would lead.
In all I would judge the book readable but not terribly fulfilling. But undoubtedly it will make a popular film.
This is the author’s first thriller fiction. A good starter book and she should try again…soon.