The Girl on the Trainby Paula Hawkins Published 13 Jan 2015
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Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train...
"The Girl on the Train" Reviews
this review and more on my blog -> mereadingbooks
Caution. There might be some ranting ahead.
This has frequently been called the next Gone Girl. And yes, that is to some extend why I wanted to read this. I wanted something suspenseful; an unreliable narrator; and lots of “what the hell?!”- moments. Out of these three things I got one – an unreliable narrator. But one written so clumsily and shallow that I was annoyed, not intrigued, by her.
The plot’s mystery falls flat because it is done in such a heavy-handed way. The shift between narrative points of view and the two timelines seem like an artificial way of keeping the reader in the dark. The alcohol-induced blackouts of the main character just add to that feeling. I constantly thought “oh, how convenient that she does not remember that” and “oh, how convenient she can recall a tiny detail now”. It was simply clumsy and trite.
However, the worst thing about Rachel, the protagonist and main narrator, weren’t the clichés about alcoholism and divorced women. These aspects annoyed me to no end but the absolute worst thing about Rachel and the two other female narrators was how pathetic they were. Throughout the book I got the feeling that Paula Hawkins must hate women; hate them with a passion. Women in this novel are portrayed as unstable (going on batshit crazy), weak, dependent (on men), and insecure. Every single woman mentioned defines her personality in relation to a man. They doubt themselves, their capabilities and decisions. The men, in contrast, are all mysterious but strong and sure of themselves. They are there to give definition and meaning to their wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and sons. Even those women on the side-lines of the plot are only defined by their relationships to men.
For instance, Rachel’s mother; she is only mentioned two or three times and the one time she actually gets a few lines is when she explains how she’s not able to help her daughter at the moment because she has a new “friend” and she doesn’t want to scare him off like that! Seriously? Also, Rachel’s roommate is supposed to be the one thinking clearly; she tries to keep Rachel sober and wants her to go to AA meetings, get a grip on life, and so on. Still, even the supposedly reasonable character is defined by her boyfriend. When she’s not home she is with him and when he is out of town for some reason she sits at home waiting for him. And these are only the minor female characters in this novel.
Rachel, Anna, and Megan are all pathetic in their very own way. They pine about the men that leave or reject them; they doubt their life decisions and still won’t change anything in order not to upset their men. And every single thought they have is about how their decisions or actions might affect their husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, or lovers.
I know I’m ranting a bit here, but this really really annoyed me. I also know what Hawkins was trying to do. She wanted to show the dark side of domestic life – just like Gone Girl did. But in my opinion she has utterly failed to do so.
What a huge disappointment.
The concept sounded amazing, and it got off to a promising...if slow...start. But it quickly turned into this messy, melodramatic story that was neither surprising, or original. Much like in Gone Girl, there was not a single likable character in the entire book. That wasn't the main problem for me, though. I could see the ending coming from a mile away. Actually more like I figured out who the main villan was within the first 20 pages. Never a ringing endorsement.
I once read a book by a former alcoholic where she described giving oral sex to two different men, men she'd just met in a restaurant on a busy London high street. I read it and I thought, I'm not that bad. This is where the bar is set.
oh, yeah - this one is going to be a must-read for those people looking to find their next Gone Girl experience. it's an incredibly fast-paced and engrossing psychological thriller, and i was on board as soon as i read the editor's bit of ARC-copy, even though i know that writing those things is part of the job and not at all unbiased. but it's hard not to be swayed when you read:
Within days of my introducing the manuscript in March, people from every department were regularly pulling me aside to testify to how much they loved the read, how they couldn't put it down. At a recent meeting, a colleague who was twelve pages from the end was secretly reading them under the table because she could not stop. Another had the manuscript propped up next to her phone so she could read between calls, and last week in the elevator, people around me suddenly started competing over who'd read it fastest, and who was more surprised by the ending. You know you have something special when it becomes watercooler talk for months on end.
it would take a very stubbornly cynical person to see that as anything other than genuine enthusiasm.
and the book definitely delivers. it is an absolute page-turner with a number of unreliable narrators ranging from the self-deluded to the spotty memory of the blackout drunk.
i am too busy reading on my daily commute to notice my fellow passengers unless they are smelly/behaving in an unstable manner (frequently), or exceptionally attractive (MUCH less frequently), but apparently this is a thing that commuters do - notice their fellow travelers, making up stories about their lives, speculating about what they do when they're not in the in-between moments of their day. and rachel does it more than most. rachel is blisteringly lonely, drowning the sorrows of her failed marriage with grim determination and canned gin and tonics and endless bottles of wine. she has lost her job because of her perpetual drunkenness, but rather than tell her flatmate, she keeps taking the train into london every day, pretending to go to work, but actually just getting drunk in various places, and happily fantasizing about the young couple she watches every day from her train window; a couple who live a few doors down from her old house, where her ex-husband tom still resides with his new wife and baby girl.
still reeling from tom's infidelity to her, she nonetheless would love to be back with him, and in this golden couple she observes and imagines, calling them "jess and jason," she sees the life she could have had with tom. one day, while commuting/gazing voyeuristically, she witnesses "jess" on her front lawn with another man, in what appears to be a romantic clinch. she is outraged at this display, as personally offended as if the infidelity were being committed against herself. shortly after this episode, she learns that "jess," actually named megan, has disappeared, and feeling connected to this couple she has never actually met, she insinuates herself into the investigation, meeting with both the police and megan's husband, actual name scott.
the story is told from three perspectives: rachel's, megan's, and tom's new wife anna, and covers all the traditional viewpoints of the typical domestic drama: the jilted lover, the other woman, the cheating wife. all three of these women are simultaneously sympathetic and repellent, which is tricky to pull off. and as for the mystery of megan's disappearance itself, well that path splits and splits again in a wonderful head-spinning journey where not a single character avoids suspicion (except MAYBE tom and anna's infant daughter); i think there are seven characters in total who appear to be the culprit at one point or another, and each seems as plausible as the next. it is a fantastic ride, and hawkins does a great job with both the mystery elements and the character development, with great attention to detail, and fully established backstories and motivations. even when you cringe at some of the choices, they completely make sense for the character. it is a lot of fun, and terribly addictive. much better than a meeting, i kid you not.
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"Something bad happened."
Are you ready for a faster-paced, creepier Gone Girl?
Woah. This is one unsettling little thriller and the best bit about it is that no one can be trusted, including the three female narrators who share the storytelling of this book. I literally read this entire novel in one sitting and I now need to find the words to convince you to go get your hands on it. RIGHT NOW.
Between an alcoholic, a liar and a cheat, who can you trust? These are the three women at the centre of this book: Rachel, Anna and Megan.
Have you ever sat on the train, glanced at the people around you or out of the window, and made up stories about them? Maybe you've even gone so far as to invent names for these people and imagine their perfect or not-so-perfect lives.
Rachel is that girl on the train who takes her mind off her own life by imagining the lives of others. Specifically the lives of "Jess and Jason" who live at the house outside her train window when the train stops at the same red signal every morning. But then one morning, things are not as they are supposed to be and Rachel sees something that completely shatters the "Jess and Jason" image which exists in her head.
Now she is pulled into their lives. Unsure exactly what she knows but certain she cannot rest until she finds out.
This book is just full of secrets. Everyone has them. It's about all the little mysteries that exist just outside of what we see on the surface. What goes on behind closed doors? How much can you ever really know a person? What horrors exist in that black spot of your memory from Saturday night?
It was fascinating, gripping and oh so very creepy. Hawkins has been added to the small group of thriller authors on my "must buy" list.
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4.5 stars Everyone in this book is absolutely terrible, and as a result, this book is a masterpiece in character study and development. It's also a well-written, precisely plotted psychological thriller, and deftly sketches one unreliable narrator after another. I guessed the culprit not too far into the book, but that didn't spoil my reading experience at all, particularly because the author drops so many diverting and convincing red herrings into the story.
I think it's also interesting that the central character, Rachel, challenges readers to think about how much we assume about--and pre-judge--other people based on our limited knowledge of them. To feel pity, disgust, frustration, compassion, and so much more for one character is a rare thing.
Recommended to fans of Before I Go To Sleep, and for YA readers, fans of Dangerous Girls and Nova Ren Suma.
I read this one out of curiosity. Aware that it had been a huge market success, I wondered if it merited the sales. According to Riverhead, The Girl on the Train is, or was, the fastest-selling adult hardcover fiction debut ever. And that is a shame. With so many great books being published every year that do little or no business, for this one to have secured a first class ticket on the book-sales express can only be dispiriting to the good and great writers everywhere toiling away in third class on the oft-delayed local.
I do not mean to say that The Girl… is a bad book. Although I believe it to be seriously flawed, it is most definitely entertaining and will no doubt help hundreds of thousands of readers while away a few hours of their (our) lives, getting from this station to that. But if you want a psychological thriller that doesn’t disregard red signals you would do better to book a seat elsewhere.
Rachel Watson has had a tough go of it. When her hopes of having a baby with hubby Tom did not work out, she landed in a trough of post-hope depression, and self-medicated with a steady flow of what seemed happier spirits. It did not work out. Now, divorced and unemployed as a result of her drinking, growing larger and pastier by the day, Rachel rides the commuter train to London on weekday mornings, pretending she is still working, pretending she still has a life. The ride takes her past her old neighborhood, offering a nice, mood dampening view of a stretch of railroad-edge homes. She used to live in one of those, before her ex bought out her interest. A few places away from her former home there is a couple she sees most days. She imagines lives for them, nursing this fantasy for quite some time, until she learns that the woman has vanished, and the game is afoot.
The notion for the story occurred to Hawkins on her regular train ride in London some years back. She calls it “Rear-Window-ish,” noting that it is hardly unusual for train riders to be curious about the lives being lived in the houses they pass, and just as likely for those on the ground to wonder about those passing by.
I used to go to college on the District line,” she said. “It goes very, very slowly and you can look into people’s houses. I did idly wonder about what you would do if you saw an act of violence or something suspicious. It’s quite normal, everyone is curious about other people’s lives.” - from an article in the StandardThis irregular Watson will not make anyone forget the investigative Doctor, let alone his illustrious partner, but Rachel feels compelled to find out whatever she can, using the knowledge she has gleaned from her daily observations. We expect our investigators these days to be a bit down on their luck, and to throw back maybe more than their share of amber liquid. But Rachel Watson doesn’t have a drinking problem, she has a drinking catastrophe. How is she to figure out whither the missing lady has gone, or perhaps who made her go missing, how is she to judge whether the lady’s anger-management-challenged husband, the other man she saw at her place, or someone else might be somehow involved, if her drinking causes her to have more blackouts than London during the blitz.
The tale is told in staggered chronology, from three perspectives. Rachel’s, the missing person’s, and Anna’s, she being the woman with whom Rachel’s ex cheated while he was still with Rachel, and whom he subsequently married. Or she said, she said, and then she said. The timelines converge at the end. Most sections are divided into sub headings of morning, evening, afternoon, that sort. It makes for many short passages, good, appropriately, for reading on a train.
This is an example of the S stock used on the District line Hawkins once rode
The pace of the tale is quick, clickety-clacking along without exceeding posted limits, advancing nicely to the big climax. Truthfulness comes in for some attention, as it seems everyone has something to hide. If you are looking for likeable characters, you might try the Hogwarts Express. The folks here tote enough baggage to merit their own cars. I suppose Rachel is sympathetic, but seems almost as much an agent of her misery as a victim. Making her pathetic and annoying was, I expect, a way to make her real, make her sympathetic, and that works, to a point.
Will Rachel find out what happened with the missing woman? Will her ex take out an order of protection against her, as she keeps calling and showing up at his place? Is the missing person merely missing? or worse? Can Rachel stay sober long enough to figure anything out? You might very well care. Clearly, judging by sales, many do. But, while I did, a little, I felt pushed away by this book. I felt cheated, as an actual audience member, as if riding on a disoriented express. I do understand that the unreliable narrator is simply a story-telling mechanism and that Rachel falls into the Madman classification within that, but when she changes her story about a significant piece of information the story went off the rails for me. So, while there is plenty to enjoy about The Girl on the Train, while there is plenty of tension-release-repeat, and while many readers are bound to be transported by the story, relating to or rooting for one or more characters at least some of the time, the one thing a reader demands from an author is honesty, and when trust is lost so is the benefit of the several hours we spend together. The locomotive was transformed, for me, into a hand-car trapped in a siding. It’s elementary.
Review posted – 7/10/15
Publication date – 1/13/15
Movie opens - 10/7/16
While this may be the first novel by Paula Hawkins, it is not the first novel that Paula Hawkins wrote, or published. She got work writing chick-lit under the name Amy Silver, an experience that she says was great training. Hawkins, born and raised in Zimbabwe, was 17 when her family moved to London. She had wanted to be a foreign correspondent like her father, but decided that war zones were just too scary. Check the Guardian piece if you are interested in getting more info on the author.
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Twitter as Amy Silver, and FB pages
Excellent intel in this piece in The Guardian
Here is the article from the Standard cited in the review, 'My District line commute inspired bestselling thriller,' says London author Paula Hawkins ,
An interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins talks about her next thriller, by Clark Collis
A few great train reads. Now don’t bug me about the brevity of this. I know there are only a gazillion. Do feel free, however to add your favorite train books in the comments. I will be happy to add those to this list if you like. I have not gotten around to installing links for all of these, but I expect you guys can manage
4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie’s
Murder on the Orient Express by AC
Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal, Edith Pargeter
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, or several other train books by this author
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead - recommended for inclusion by Dianne
Not to be outdone, train tunes
Casey Jones – this version by Allan Hirsch
Chatanooga Choo-Choo – Glenn Miller Orchestra - recommended by Clif
Folsom Prison Blues (I hear that train a’comin) – Johnny Cash
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Pete Seeger
Last Train to Clarkesville – The Monkees
Last Train to Lhasa - Banco de Gaia - recommended by Rand
Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull – the vid is cadged together, but this is what it should sound like
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight
MTA - The Kingston Trio
Take the A-Train – Duke Ellington
The Train Song – a bit of silliness from Armstrong and Miller
Goodbye World (Sad song when Dad jumps from the train) – from Korean Zombie flick Train to Busan - recommended by Jay G.
Can't You See - recommended by Murf the Surf