Monday, April 4, 2016

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Written by: Paula Hawkins

Published: 2015

Synopsis: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. 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 offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? (Via goodreads)

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

When I was travelling through Europe I found this book in every book store and I nearly bought a copy, but since I was mostly travelling by trains and I wasn't sure if this book was about something evil happening on a train - I decided to not risk suddenly being terrified travelling alone in a strange country and bought The Twelve instead. But I did note it down because I did want to read it, I just wanted the safety of knowing I could avoid trains if I needed too.

Anyway, this is going to be a vague and short book because like most thrillers, it's best to avoid as many details and story points as possible before heading in. I certainly went into this blind, knowing only what the blurb on the back cover said. And since I really quite liked this book that's what I'd recommend for you too.

But in case you want some details here we go. The book is about Rachel, a woman who takes a train to and from work in London every day. She catches the same train in the morning and the same one in the evening, and because she follows this routine so regularly she knows exactly where the train stops or slows. At one particular point in her trip, the train slows down beside a series of terrace houses and she's able to glimpse a couple that live in one of them. She doesn't see them every day and she doesn't see them with much detail, but she sees enough to know that they're young and in love. She has a backstory for this couple, careers, names, hobbies - things she couldn't possibly know but which help pass the time and make her feel happy. There is a sense that Rachel is a little lonely, and perhaps she's missing this kind of love from her life. And then one morning while looking out for her favourite couple she sees something. It could be nothing, but in her gut she knows that isn't true. Rachel pulls at this thread and it unravels catastrophically for not only her, but for several other people too. Which people though I can't share without giving away some of the details that should really be discovered on reading.

I thought the book was pretty well constructed. Hawkins divulges the tiniest glimpses of details only slowly over time, pulling back the covers to reveal things dark or haunted or ugly. I don't mean to sound snobby, but thrillers often follow a fairly predictable path - even if you don't necessarily cotton on to who the killer/monster/villain is. Hawkins plays with all of the typical tools of the thriller, but she also experiments with these tools to construct a thriller that is both fairly traditional and also quite breathtaking. There is a sense of an unreliable narrator within this story, but Hawkins plays with this idea and the effect is rather dizzying. That's all I can say without giving anything away, but if you've read the book I'm sure you understand what I mean here.

I was a little worried when I began that it was going to be a Gone Girl clone. It's fairly cynical about life and people and love and the characters are all fairly unlikable. I had a couple of moments where I wondered if I really cared why things were happening or where they would go. But the unfolding narrative made me constantly change my mind about characters, for instance new information suddenly giving insight which adds a level of sympathy to a character's previously murky agenda. So even if I didn't necessarily like the characters, I was curious about uncovering the full story.

So if you've been looking for a new thriller then give this one a shot. It isn't perfect, but as a debut novel I think it shows a lot of promise for Hawkins in the future.

**I was thinking that instead of writing these vague "things happen, but read it for yourself" reviews I might start writing analysis reviews of thrillers instead. So they'd be aimed at people who had read the book so I could discuss the spoilers and what I liked/didn't like about the real story. Would people be into this or nah?**


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