Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: July 2016
Number of Pages: 395
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Thriller
“EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. 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 goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”
Mystery novels opened me to the wonderful world of reading. I initially began with the works of Mary Higgins Clark, Sidney Sheldon, Nora Roberts and Harlan Coben before taking on more renowned mystery writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. But reading too many mystery novels made me feel weary about the genre. This saturation in mystery novels made me switch to other genres like romance, fantasy and dystopian. In spite of this switch, I still open to more mystery novels although I am looking out for books that offer a different perspective of this genre.
One of the books which I thought, or at least felt, that would offer an invigorating perspective to mystery fiction is Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train. Published in 2015, a media hype surrounded it in 2016 which piqued my attention. It made the headlines when talks about a movie adaptation were underway. Because of this, I had lofty hopes for the book, expecting it to make me experience a roller-coaster ride, on a positive literary note of course.
So imagine my dismay and disappointment when the book failed to live up to my expectations, which I didn’t think were undeserved. It debuted the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers List at number one after all!
The Girl on the Train is a reference to Rachel, the story’s principal narrator. She is an unstable character and an unreliable narrator due to her alcohol addiction. Her chronic inebriation caused the fall out of her marriage to Tom, ending up with an inevitable divorce. Her drinking problem also caused her to lose her job and nearly all of her acquaintances. Everyone wants to be rid of her, especially Tom’s second wife, Anna.
Although Rachel no longer has a job, she still kept on commuting to London to keep up the pretense of having one in order to appease her friend. On her numerous commutes, a particular house and its inhabitants, Meghan and Ben, piqued her interest because they are a picture of everything she envisioned her life to be. Maybe it was the couple’s happiness or maybe Rachel’s hidden frustrations that kept her hooked on the couple. One thing is clear, Rachel is obsessed.
Everything was fine until Meghan went missing. A police search yielded into the discovery of her gruesome fate. Speculations surrounded the mystery and Rachel is apprehensive of stepping up to reveal the things that she has observed prior to Meghan’s death. After all, who would trust a neurotic and chronic drinker.
The Girl on the Train revolves around dark and complex themes including domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse set in suburban London. The story is narrated on a multiple first person point of views by Rachel, Anna and Meghan. This narration style made the readers part of the story-telling process as they are given an intimate peek into the convoluted lives of the three narrators. The integration of their three stories and their contrasting personalities made up for an interesting read. Their brazen virtues and their dark secrets further added complexion to the story. Even though the characters are leaning more on the villain side, I have to commend Hawkins for her greatly developed characters.
With three women as its central characters, the story got hinged on a number of feminine themes, the most palpable of which is motherhood. Each of the three narrators has differing stances towards motherhood. One longs to be a mother but is probably barren. Another one became a mother but is unsure about her feelings towards her child. The last one had an unwanted child, who she eventually learned to love only to lose it in a tragic turn of events. This caused her to disdain the thought of bearing yet another child.
The story had a great start, painting a general picture of the characters involved in the story. However, as the story progressed, it became bleaker. The manner by which the killer was unmasked is unsatisfactory because it was purely through a series of chances. There was a pall of bleakness that hovered over the entire story. It lacked vitality or probably because it appealed more on the psychological than on the logical. But even the psychological aspect of the book is fundamentally lacking.
Moreover, the story-telling is a little too standard. There was nothing spectacular about it and even the dialogues are contrived, if not mediocre. I don’t find it outstanding enough to belong on my list of best mystery novels. As I was reading it, I felt like I was going through the motions of another Mary Higgins Clark novel because of the trite pattern of the story. Even The Girl on the Train’s ending reeks of the aforementioned author whose works have become child’s play after reading over 20 of her works.
Alas, my quest for the next great mystery novel ended in disappointment. To some extent, the book had some wonderful insights that I appreciated but overall, it just didn’t blow my mind the way I wanted it to, or expected to. The characters were well-developed but the story-telling is mundane. I felt bad because the story had the merits of becoming a stunning mystery novel. In the end, I have to agree with a comment I read about the book – there wasn’t much of a mystery to it.
Recommended for those who are into psychological thrillers and mystery solving.
Not recommended for those who are looking for a riveting mystery novel.
About The Author
Of British origins, Paula Hawkins was born on August 26, 1972 in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was also there that she was raised before moving to London in 1989 at the age of 17 to study for her A-Levels at Collingham College. After graduating from college, she worked as a journalist for The Times. Later on, she worked as a freelance journalist for a number of publications before publishing her first book, The Money Goddess, a financial advice book for women.
Under the pseudonym Amy Silver, Hawkins was able to publish four romantic comedy novels which failed to achieve any commercial success. It was when she switched to darker themes that she was able to capture the attention of the literary world. The Girl on the Train took six months of full-time writing which eventually earned her that long-awaited break as the book debuted at the top spot of the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List in 2015.
She is currently living in South London.