“The Girl on the Train” is a psychological thriller novel by Paula Hawkins. It was published on Jan. 13, 2015 by Riverhead Books.
Paula Hawkins has sort of erupted onto the scene as of late. “The Girl on the Train” is her debut work of fiction. It received wide critical acclaim, selling more than three million copies in the United States alone. It was a GoodRead’s Choice 2015 winner. It has been often compared to “Gone Girl,” a novel of the same genre that received similar recognition back in 2012. “The Girl on the Train” will be releasing as a film on Oct. 7, 2016.
So what is about?
The novel follows Rachel, 32, an alcoholic British woman still severely damaged by the dissolution of her marriage to Tom. Tom left her for another woman, to which she partly attributes her inability to have a child. Rachel has lost her job, but still takes the same train into London every day to keep her flatmate from finding out. Every morning, she sees a couple atop their balcony over the railroad and she fantasizes about the perfect life they must lead. She has even built nicknames for them, “Jess and Jason.”
The novel introduces you to Rachel’s world, but then throws a wrench into it when one day Rachel witnesses something terribly strange happen one morning atop the balcony. Later, after a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to find herself injured and covered in blood that she is not sure is her own.
The rest of the story switches points of view frequently, telling the greater truths about Rachel, Tom, his mistress Anna, Jess, and Jason. It reveals a much more complex and interweaved plot that leads Rachel down the path of no return.
So how good is it?
Overall, “The Girl on the Train” has as many strong points as it does weak. I do not think that it performs on the same level as “Gone Girl,” and for good reason.
First off, the novel is really complex, which is good. It is extremely hard to predict what comes next and almost every curve in the plot will surprise you and yet remain fairly reasonable. Having so many points of view helps develop the plot in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Hawkins primarily uses Rachel’s chapters to progress the plot forward, while using all of the other characters to fill the holes in what has happened. The novel reads at a fast pace and can definitely be hard to put down, especially once you have become immersed into the mystery.
That said, most of the plot’s complexity is only because Rachel is always drunk. She never knows what’s going on or why because she is always, always on the verge of blacking out. I found this to get annoying after a while. She was so unreliable that her chapters felt almost irrelevant. She only gains a footing for herself towards the end and it’s just too late.
The setup is also very convenient. I can’t go too far into this without spoiling major points of the mystery, but all of these characters are interweaved so tightly that it feels like a miracle/nightmare situation. I see this in a lot of novels, but it still doesn’t look good.
The biggest downfall of “The Girl on the Train” is, for me, the ending. It has so much build up, as most mystery-thrillers do, but the ending felt totally unsatisfying. The final 50-70 pages of the novel devolves into something that you would normally see in a Lifetime channel movie. It reaches a surreal level of dramatic, and the “villain” of the novel goes into a painfully slow monologue, tying up all of the novel’s loose ends so that the reader knows, step by step, exactly what happened. The final outcome and resolution became lackluster and predictable because of this.
The ending is so played up, so uncharacteristic of human behavior, that it totally shattered my suspension of disbelief up to that point. I am very curious, albeit worried, about how the director will approach the ending for the film adaption of “The Girl on the Train.” I am hoping for some significant revisions, especially to dialogue.
It’s not a bad novel, probably one you should read if you’re big into mystery and thrillers, but I don’t think it lives up to the height of the critical praise it received. I’ve seen many of my opinions shared in the consumer reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.
If you want to read “The Girl on the Train,” you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, and most other major booksellers.