Book Review: The Girl on the Train

I hadn’t heard of this book, until the movie came out. There was this whole phase of my life where I stopped reading books, buying books, or reading about books. I was so preoccupied with life that I let go of this intrinsic part of my nature.

As always with movies, I often try to read the book before watching the movie. There are some notable exceptions to this: Stardust [unfortunately] and Game of Thrones [fortunately].

Author: Paula Hawkins

Story: Rachel travels to work on the train every day. Her personal life is in shambles, as her marriage to the perfect man has fallen apart. He has moved on, marrying another woman and having a baby, in her old house, whereas she is slowing spiralling into alcoholism. She gets drunk and experiences black outs, where she does things she can’t remember, and which later come to haunt her.

Rachel’s train passes by her old house every morning, and the train happens to halt there for a few minutes. As a result, she sees the new tenants of a house, a few doors down from her former home. A striking couple, man and wife, in whose lives she becomes invested, as an onlooker.

One day she sees something in their house. The next day, she reads something in the newspaper. And everything unravels.

Writing: The narrative is in first-person, and shuttles between the female characters in this book. It is a master stroke of ingenuity to have done this, because the suspense remains taut with the lack of complete information. Each voice changes dramatically from the alternately self-pitying and self-loathing Rachel, to the self-justifying Anna, and lastly the mentally unstable Megan.

There is very little kindness in the writing, and it didn’t surprise me to find out that Hawkins was a journalist before writing fiction. There is a baldness to the writing that lays out the facts with unrelenting scrutiny of the weaknesses and nastiness of people. It is what it is; deal with it.

Characters: Not a single one of these characters – not the 5 main ones, nor any of the supporting ones – have a shred of likeability. Perhaps Dr. Kamal Abdic isn’t so bad, but even Rachel’s landlady is said to be “overpoweringly and suffocatingly nice”, as though being nice is a terrible thing. Surprisingly, the characters being unlikeable didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Generally it does. In fact, I have often panned a book because a horrible protagonist wins at everything.

That being said, each character was developed extremely well, with their foibles being exploited to push the narrative forward. Each one does nasty things, and each one struggles with their perception of right and wrong and what is an acceptable wrong. It is a riveting exploration of character.

Pace: I was often tempted to read the end of this book, because I desperately wanted to know what the ending was. The reason was not because the pace was slow – far from it – but because the switching viewpoints and steady unravelling of the story was tantalising good. There is not a single moment of boredom in this book, although a reader might feel other negative emotions, like disgust or shame [for the character].

Conclusion: I didn’t guess the architect of all the misery till well past the middle point, because that is how masterfully Hawkins has written this book. It is brilliant. I am only deducting a star for the number of times I thought: “Oh Rachel!” in utter exasperation. A must-read.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩

PS: I posted my rating of this book on Goodreads, and I was amused to see that someone commented on it saying: “Since you like this book, I think you may enjoy mine. Here is the link to buy it!”

Whattodo. Being an author is tough.

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