The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-trainRachel Watson takes the 8:04 train every morning to London. The highlight of her trip is when the train stops at signals, and she can catch a glimpse of the couple that she has christened Jess and Jason, seemingly living the life that she wants – a life that she once had. But then on day, she sees “Jess” in her flat with another man. And then the news reports that “Jess” – or Megan, as she is actually called, has disappeared. Disappeared on the same night that Rachel was in the street that the couple live on.

For on the same street lives Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna, a relationship that Rachel struggles to accept. But she cannot remember anything about that night as she had succumbed to one of her regular battles with the demon alcohol. All that she remembers is that she woke up the next morning with blood on her hands…

And welcome to the first instalment of “Let’s See What All The Fuss Is About”, an occasional dive into a book that has dominated the best-seller charts, the newspaper column inches and book awards. For a while, The Girl On The Train was all some people could talk about. So now it’s time for me to have a look…

Well, after much thought, my considered opinion of the book is basically “meh”. Or, to use a few more words, “Was that it?”

A while ago, I reviewed Before I Go To Sleep, a book with a similar reputation and that one, I felt, deserved it. It had a genuinely clever and creepy idea at the heart of the tale, so I was hoping for something similar here.

Never mind… maybe next time. The problems here are multiple, but let’s consider the good first. I did enjoy the writing style and while some people have criticised the three unsympathetic narrators, I didn’t have that problem. I was convinced by Rachel’s and Anna’s actions and while I thought Anna needed a little more explanation for some of her deeds, it made sense.

But the notion of an unreliable narrator is a tricky one, and it needs more than just a character who can’t remember what happened one night. You’re expecting a great trick or at least a heart-churning surprise, but at the end of the day, the villain of the piece is extraordinarily obvious (to me at least) and has little motivation beyond being an ruthless unpleasant person with low morals. I can think of two other endings that would have made sense and carried much more weight. Certain parts seem rushed as well – Rachel’s memories seem to return for no particular reason, and the explanation of her actions that night are disappointing. And surely… no, that’s a spoiler. So the person in question must be stupid as well as murderous.

But if this is the sort of book that you enjoy, it is well-written so I’d grudgingly recommend it. But if you’re a mystery reader who wants a twisty-turny thriller that constantly makes you look the wrong way, then I can’t really suggest you read this one. And as I’m in the latter camp myself, then I’m afraid that this is Not Recommended.

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13 comments

  1. PD, I read this with a bunch of fellow teachers as part of an informal book club, which made the whole thing more fun. I had similar problems to this one that I had with Gone Girl, but like you, I enjoyed the three narrators. I thought Megan was an interesting character. I’m not sure if ANY of these unreliable narrator books can satisfy me with a truly twisty end, but I do remember reading your review for Before I Go To Sleep, so maybe I should try that one. Here all seems to fall flat, and once you’ve got the truth to this one before you and everything is “turned around,” I couldn’t help but feel let down. It was like the air had gotten let out of Megan, Anna and Rachel’s tires.

    I saw the movie version last week. Emily Blunt is way too pretty to be Rachel, but she’s marvelous as always. I thought they did a great job, considering the source material, although it all sorted itself out way too quickly at the end.

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  2. I was a bit ‘meh’ about both this and Before I Go to Sleep. They both do what they say on the tin, but are not memorable enough to those of us who read crime fiction morning, noon and night.

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  3. Yeah, the whole “oh, my memories are returning now at a convenient time to facilitate the plot” does seem to be the post-millennial bestseller trope du jour, and one that always sets my teeth on edge. I get that it’s better than having everyone sit around while the protagonist remembers nothing before the book ends after 400 pages with nothing resolved, but it’s still an awful narrative conceit.

    I mean, if nothing else, it recalls John Hurt’s character in Indiana Jones ans the Movie That Shall Not be Named Because We’re All Pretending It Didn’t Happen…and that’s hardly a robust piece of plotting from which to be lifting inspiration now, is it?

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  4. I loved this book, but I read it six months before it was released, so I didn’t have the ‘hype’ to compare it against or to build up my expectations higher than the book generally deserved.

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  5. I did not caretaker all for this book. I felt the same about Gone Girl. The protagonists we not very likable & I did not have a vested interest in what happened to them, hence, the reason both books were lackluster reads. Also this these sort of books share a plot formula that does not appeal to me. I started to read the Woman in Cabin 10 and didn’t finish it as it falls in the same category.

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  6. I am with Marina Sofia. Both this and BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP were terrible disappointments. This had three hysterical women speaking in the same voice and a paper-thin mystery where the identity of the murderer was clear from the beginning. Wonder what the hype was all about.

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