The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
There are books in every library that are bought or brought home simply because they are “that book everyone is talking about.” The Girl on the Train was one of those books for me; I’d never heard of the author and didn’t know the premise of the novel, but everyone in my bookish circles seemed to be talking about it. I snatched it up at my local Barnes and Noble (paying nearly full price – something I almost NEVER do) and sat down with it over a weekend. While this particular novel is certainly one of those categorized as “you either love it or you hate it,” I personally couldn’t put it down. It became obvious very early on what all the hype was about.
Rachel cannot seem to get her life together, but is she even really trying? Haunted by memories of her ex-husband and their life together has left her borderline obsessed, and she has turned to the bottom of the bottle for comfort. Watching from afar as he settles into the new life he’s made with the woman he left her for, Rachel has allowed alcohol to take over her life in that overwhelming way that only wine and vodka and tequila can. Rachel has firmly cemented herself in the depressive stage of alcohol, allowing days to transition into nights, weeks, and months in a deceptively smooth blur.
When she married Tom all those years ago, Rachel thought that her life of loneliness was over. He was attractive and attentive and made her life seem almost overly full. They set up in a tidy house in a neat little neighborhood nestled in between trees and mailboxes set in shades of happy pastel colors. The neighbors were friendly and supportive, always offering a wave of hello or a casserole at the holiday season. Children rode their bikes merrily down the street, bringing about a new sense of longing in Rachel. In all effects it was the perfect existence, the only thing lacking was a child of their own to complete the picture of perfection for the happy couple.
It didn’t take long for Rachel and Tom to realize that they would have trouble in the baby-making department. No matter what they tried, conceiving was simply not an option and Rachel began to circle the bowl of despair. Feelings of failure and of dissatisfaction drove Rachel to the bottle initially, but watching Tom pull away from her in a painfully slow manner kept her there. Her frequent blackouts and frustrated drunken rages became a problem all too quickly, only serving to reinforce the tension between the once-perfect couple, and it was only a matter of time before Tom turned to someone else to warm his bed.
Anna is the woman that moved into the house Rachel so unwillingly vacated. She slipped into the disgraced woman’s life with ease, her youth and beauty captivating Tom and setting his desire into an upward flame. Their beautiful little girl Evie completed their life, and Anna loved being able to stay at home with the sweet baby – initially. But while it was a thrill to flaunt her conquest of Tom in front of Rachel’s face in the beginning, Anna is now having second thoughts. Rachel appears to be the picture of unhinged, calling at all hours of night and even going so far as to show up on the premises, putting both Anna and Evie in danger. There now lies a certain degree of fear hovering about fringe of the odd relationship Anna has with Rachel, and she just wants her to go away for good.
Tom has grown distant with Anna, and the late-night phone calls won’t stop. He keeps insisting that it’s Rachel and Anna knows that the woman is deranged, but she can’t help but wonder . . . once a cheater, always a cheater? Anna hates everything about Rachel, from her mousy brown hair to her forever bloated face and slurring language. And much to Anna’s growing digress, the ghost of Rachel walks the halls of her home constantly, and sometimes Anna wonders just how far the woman would go to get back what she believes to be hers.
In an attempt to hide her alcoholic tendencies from her roommate, Rachel gets up every day and leaves the house as if she is on her way to work. Truth be told, Rachel was fired for drinking on the job weeks ago and is struggling to make ends meet financially, but she’s in too much denial to come clean about anything to anyone. As she wastes time riding on the train, she carefully watches the goings on outside of her large window. It’s not a coincidence that the train drives past the house she used to share with Tom every day, and Rachel catches glimpses of Anna and baby Evie playing in the backyard or of Anna and Tom sharing a cup of coffee on the balcony. She commits these images to her brain and replays them over and over like a stuck reel. But what she also sees is this impossibly beautiful couple that lives a few houses down, and Rachel is able to find solace in the imaginary world she has placed this couple in . . . all of her dreams and hopes hanging in the life she has made up for the two that she watches so diligently.
To Rachel, Megan is the epitome of everything she has ever wanted. She’s beautiful; appropriately thin but curvy in all the right places. Model-like looks and wonderful fashion sense. But most of all, she looks happy. Rachel can see the smile settled firmly on the woman’s face each morning as she is cuddled by her handsome husband on the deck, cozy mugs of tea or coffee warming their hands and helping to break the dreary English mornings.
But on the inside, Megan is miserable. She has an uncanny way of putting forth a cheery facade but in reality, her life is nothing but a charade. She is being eaten up by a secret that she’s held for too many years to count, and she has taken a series of lovers to try and suppress the pain and cut the boredom of her monotonous existence. And when she is able to find more than just an emotional download and release from her therapist, Megan finds that bringing her healing home has more meanings than one.
The morning after Rachel sees Megan and a mysteriously handsome man kissing on the balcony, she’s baffled. Who was that man? And why is Rachel bruised and bloody, as if she got into some kind of fight? She wants to brush it off as just another bit of collateral damage due to her drinking, but her mind keeps shifting to these flashes and . . . memories? With the feeling that something terrible has happened and the murder of Megan making the news, Rachel is terrified. On a quest to find out the truth, she will hunt through the most darkest of places and be surprised at what she finds lurking just beyond the shadows.
Spending over four months at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and notably the fastest-selling adult hardcover in history, The Girl on the Train is the tale of three women navigating through murky waters full of intrigue, deception, and murder. Giving the novel 4.5 out of 5 stars, I say that I only found fault in the novel when it came to the character of Rachel. While complex at times, she maintained a seriously whiny tone throughout the novel and I found it very difficult to like her. Perhaps that was Paula Hawkins’ point, and I just missed it. There were a few pages that rolled my eyes at, wanting to shake Rachel out of her self-deprecating state and force her to sober up for just a moment. But, as the mystery began to unfold, I was captivated by the layers of story and desperate to find out what happened. I recommend this book to lovers of the quick mystery and the sexy thrill; readers who enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and/or Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger would also enjoy this novel.