Whew! I took a long (long) lunch at work just so I could finish this book. I read it in an evening and a lunch hour, and you should too.
Rachel is our main narrator. She rides the train to and from London every day, passing by the same houses every day, imagining the lives of the people who live there. One couple in particular, a Perfect Couple, “Jess” and “Jason” live just down the street from her old house (dum dum dummmm), and she’s constructed a Perfect Imaginary Life for them, beautiful and loving and full of sunshine. One day she sees a split second of something, though–something wrong. And the next day, everything is upended. A woman is missing, the story is muddy, there are spouses who may be cheating and partners who may be lying. Rachel is drawn into a sordid drama–or rather, she places herself smack in the middle, despite all warnings to the contrary, because she just can’t help herself.
The pacing was great, the characters were well drawn, with different voices and realistic motivations, which is, I think, hard to do when you are dealing with characters that could easily be stereotypes: jilted lover, other woman, cheating spouse. Hawkins also keeps the motivations (but not the storytelling!) murky til the end in a believable way. I was drawn in on the first page and it kept going, kept entertaining to the very last.
I liked the exploration of dependency and manipulation, the ways each of the three first-person narrators told herself what she wanted to hear, both excusing and regretting her bad behavior, forgiving people who shouldn’t be forgiven, loving people she probably (definitely) shouldn’t love. I liked the way the characters’ manipulations slowly came into focus. For a quick read, those are some heavy topics, and I thought they were really well done.
It’s being touted as 2015’s Gone Girl, and I understand why (manipulative/cheating spouses, despicable/unreliable narrators, terrible marriages, police who can’t quiiiite figure out the story) but, in fact, I liked it more than Gone Girl, and I will tell you why. Gone Girl was a page turner, absolutely, but the sociopathic Amy wasn’t very relate-able to me, the last quarter got a little too crazy, so I felt she got off too scot-free. Of course, she was well-written, and it was easy enough to suspend disbelief about the way things worked out for her. The Girl on the Train’s narrators were all despicable in their own way–but also, weirdly, kind of likable. I’ve never had wanted to meticulously destroy anyone’s life, but I’ve definitely sent some ill-advised emails after one too many glasses of wine, knowing that it probably was a bad idea. Rachel, in particular, is enormously, frustratingly flawed, making terrible decisions that you know, and she knows, are terrible…for all the reasons one makes terrible decisions: Love. Alcohol. Shame. Doubt. Jealousy. Grief. I felt for her and rooted for even as I wanted to pull a Cher:
That said, there were some parts that would have bothered me more, except that Hawkins’ good writing made up for them, particularly at the end when Rachel has her Moment of Clarity. So minus one star for that, but still a two thumbs up. This is the author’s first thriller, and I’m looking forward to more.