The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books, January 13, 2015
Genre: Psychological thriller
So first of all, I think it’s worth noting that I read this book in one day. Well, I read the first 40 pages on Saturday night and the rest throughout Sunday. So basically one day. In other words, either it was really good or I just really didn’t want to do my homework. Maybe a little bit of both.
I’ve been hearing about this book all over the place – it’s topping bestselling lists everywhere, it’s being called “the next Gone Girl”, and my mom read it within a couple days and told me I would like it. So finally, after I’d just finished a hefty 500+ page epic fantasy the day before, I thought I’d give The Girl on the Train a shot.
To give you a short synopsis in case you’re not already familiar, The Girl on the Train follows three women, Rachel, Megan, and Anna, who are brought together (although not always consciously) by ex-husbands, commuter trains into London, and illegal activity. The timeline jumps between present and past as the three women’s stories intertwine and a mystery unravels. That’s really all I want to say without giving anything away; I would recommend going into this book without knowing much more.
I’ve heard a lot of people say they were disappointed because they went in expecting the next Gone Girl and got something completely different. However, I think it’s important to recognize that no book is really “the next” anything. Unless you count Fifty Shades of Grey, which was based off of Twilight fanfiction and was therefore pretty accurately “the next Twilight” upon its release. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that The Girl on the Train was completely different from Gone Girl or any other psychological thriller I’ve read, but I totally get why the two are being compared. The Girl on the Train deals with rocky marriages, unreliable narrators, and apparent mental illness in a way that so far I’ve only seen matched in Gillian Flynn’s work.
The characters, in this case, were more believable for me than those in Gone Girl (and I promise I’ll stop comparing this to Gone Girl now). All five of the central characters arguably suffer from some sort of mental illness, and I think Hawkins grasps this in such an authentic way. When a character was anxious or manic, I felt my pulse race and my reading speed up. When a character was depressed, the reading got slower and I found myself inwardly channeling written emotions. Also, the way Hawkins wrote the thoughts of a character suffering from alcohol addiction felt so incredibly real to me, despite never having suffered from addiction, myself. None of the characters were particularly likeable; they all had their inner demons, but I found myself relating to them all at one point or another.
This book doesn’t have a particularly dense plot; sometimes I would read 40 or 50 pages and discover that nothing of value had really happened. While this would normally frustrate me, I found that it really didn’t in this case. Even though actual things weren’t taking place, the characters’ inner dialogues and stress over uncovering the truth kept me intrigued throughout.
I really need to mention the setting of this novel, because it felt so incredibly real. This might be because I spent three months living in London and could therefore picture exactly what a community on the city’s outskirts would look like. I could also relate to Rachel’s obsession with “Jason and Jess” during her morning and evening commutes because I often found myself picking out the same houses again and again during the over ground legs of my journeys. I actually got chills once in a while when I would recognize the names of train stations or supermarkets. Also, I kept getting pretty strong Broadchurch vibes, for obvious reasons if you’re familiar with the show.
Basically, this was just a really cool book. Not very literary, but definitely thought provoking. It puts you inside the minds of people you may not normally associate with and make them seem more human than they might have otherwise.
Needless to say, while this book is not Gone Girl, if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn or simply of psychological thrillers, I would definitely recommend this.