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Paula Hawkins’s debut fiction novel, Girl on the Train, is one of the best-selling thrillers of all time, staying on the New York Times best seller list for 13 consecutive weeks and has already been optioned for a movie by Dreamworks. So of course, I had to read it! A slow burning, introspective, and dark thriller set amongst the charred ruins of the protagonist’s failed marriage, Girl on the Train is a brilliantly written thriller about horrible people (more on that later).
The book begins with Rachel taking the same commuter train she has taken every morning for the past two years, pretending to go to a job she no longer has thanks to her alcoholism, and passing by the house now inhabited by her ex-husband, the woman he cheated on her with, and the child that Rachel could never give him. All that she has left now is the train ride and escaping into the lives of the happy couples she glimpses out the trains window. One couple in particular stand out, Jess and Jason (although she doesn’t actually know their names). But when Rachel sees something she shouldn’t have, and the body of Jess is discovered in the wood near the train tracks, she finds herself drawn into an ever deepening darkness.
Paula Hawking did an amazing job writing this, especially since this is her first work of fiction: her descriptions of the dreary monotony of the train commute and the grim weather of late fall in England all seem tailor made for a dark, brooding thriller. Her characters are complex and nuanced, each with their own wants and needs, each struggling with feelings of isolation and self-doubt, each with secrets to hide. I also loved Hawkin’s decision to write from the perspectives of not only Rachel, but also of Jess (whose real name is Megan), and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife. Each woman had her own story, and it was fascinating to see how one woman’s action were interpreted by the others, especially since the issue of memory and our interpretation of events, such as what really happened the night of Megan’s murder, becomes an important plot point later in the book.
The only problem I do have with the book is that Rachel is deeply unlikable character. Over the course of the book she regularly gets drunk throws up in her flatmate’s apartment, harasses her ex-husband and his wife, and at one point, actually breaks into their house and attempts to KIDNAPP THEIR CHILD! This is somewhat mitigated by the inclusion of the two other women who we follow, but even then they had their own issues. It isn’t until end of the book that Rachel’s actions are cast into a new light thanks to some handy last-minute exposition, but for many this could be too little too late, and I could see a number of patrons being turned off by Rachel’s actions.
I feel kind of bad about not being able to give this a glowing review, especially after my review of The Stranger. However, despite its (character’s) flaws, Paula Hawkin’s Girl on the Train is a fantastic debut novel, and one that I would definitely recommend to patrons. Overall, I’d give Girl on the Train a 7.7 out of 10.