The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

In brief: Every day, Rachel’s train slows down at a row of houses. Every day, she watches the occupants as they go about their daily life. She has made up histories for Jess and Jason, then Jess disappears and Rachel enters their real lives…

The good: Never a dull moment.

The not-so-good: I didn’t like Rachel as a character so it was hard to care what happened to her.

Why I chose it: I’m a domestic noir fan (think Gone Girl, Before We Met). Thanks to Random House for the eARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 320 (eARC)

Publisher: Doubleday (Random House)

Setting: London’s outer suburbs

My rating: 8 out of 10

So it’s taken me some time to read this book. Was it because it was being compared to Gone Girl? Was it because everyone else was reading it? Or was it because I am a recent ex-commuter and didn’t want to relive the annoyance of public transport? Whatever. All of those are pretty lame excuses but now I have read the book that so many people are reading and enjoying. But did I love it? Well…it’s a hard one. I didn’t greedily consume The Girl on the Train like I did Gone Girl but it certainly wasn’t something I had to force myself to read. The plot was well paced, the storyline was interesting but…oh, the characters. I can’t say that I liked any of them one little bit. Everyone from the main character of Rachel down to the bit players had something unlikable or repulsive about them. Kudos to Paula Hawkins for being able to incorporate such a conglomeration of unlikeable traits into a story and still make it interesting reading.

Why didn’t I resonate with any of the characters? Rachel is the main character of the novel and she’s an alcoholic. I personally don’t have much time for the havoc these people can create in the lives of so many. Rachel’s divorced, but she still calls her ex-husband Tom multiple times a day and rocks up to his house drunk to disturb him and his new wife and baby. She’s also kind of pathetic – each day, at the change of a train signal, she stares into a row of houses (coincidentally, on the same street as she used to live with Tom) and watches the occupants of a particular house. She’s made up a fantasy life for the couple but one day she sees the woman kissing someone who isn’t her partner. Then the woman goes missing… Rachel tries to intervene with the best of intentions. The police write her off as unreliable, but she manages to entangle herself with the husband. Rachel remembers something about the night the woman went missing, but it’s hazy and she was off her face. Which, I suppose, is a blessing because if she wasn’t plastered there would be a lot less of a story.

The other characters in Rachel’s sphere are just as self-centred. Anna, Tom’s new wife, appears the wronged one until some chapters from her perspective reveal how she used to have sex with Tom in houses up for sale. How she relished playing the role of the mistress. Suddenly, I stopped feeling sorry for her as I felt she was a factor in Rachel’s downfall. And the couple down the road? Megan should have some empathy as the missing woman, but events revealed about her past have you doubting whether she is the sweet girl that Rachel dreamed up. Her husband, Scott, acts strangely for someone missing the love of his life on multiple occasions. It appears like he’s got something to hide too.

With all of these suspicious characters, it’s difficult not to start speculating early on who ‘did it’ and I found my choice of suspect changed several times during the book. Unfortunately, I did guess who it was correctly but the finale was so tautly written, so suspenseful that I really didn’t mind. (Plus, there was a sense of justice that was just right for the character). I also liked how Paula Hawkins divided up each chapter with morning and evening, to reflect a train journey. This fit in nicely while Rachel was taking the train to and from work but for other characters it showed what they were doing while all the commuters were travelling.

I didn’t think that The Girl on the Train had the ‘WTF?’ repeating factor that Gone Girl did, but I also think that it’s not a fair comparison between the two books. The Girl on the Train is more of a mystery in which the main character becomes involved in, rather than a marriage war. However, they both share the same ability to make an addictive story out of unlikeable characters. It’s a solid read – try it on the train if you dare.

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7 thoughts on “The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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  1. Must say, I didn’t like Gone Girl at all and hence my reluctance to read this. But because of that, I’ve avoided reviews and spoilers (and the hype), so I’ll probably read it!

  2. Glad you enjoyed this one – I think the link between this and Gone Girl is fairly weak except that both are populated by unlikeable characters.. I suspect those who hated Gone Girl will hate this one for the same reason. I enjoyed both, I can deal with horrid characters in books, just not in real life!

  3. I just finished reading this about half an hour ago. I agree, I wasn’t as shocked by the turn of events, but I was very surprised that this was the novelist’s first book – it had a very good pace to it.

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