I don’t think I’ve ever met a character who annoyed me more than our protagonist Rachel. That said, I see this as a win for the author, Paula Hawkins because even Rachel seemed tired of dealing with herself. Fired for months now, our alcoholic friend spends her days riding the train to and from “work” because she doesn’t want her roommate to know that she has been fired. This is pretty much a metaphor for her life–constantly moving but making no progress. The train pauses at the same place each day (coincidentally right down the road from the house that she once shared with her now ex-husband). At the pause, she sees a beautiful couple and invents a life for them, transferring what she once had with her husband to them. Because Rachel has nothing going on in her life, she becomes fully invested in this couple and their love, so of course, it only makes sense that she becomes angry when she saw the woman kissing another man.
Now this is where it gets tricky. the woman Rachel has been watching from the train, goes missing. And since we get chapters from Megan’s (the missing woman) point of view point of view we know that very few (if any) know the real Megan. Rachel feels so deeply invested in Megan’s disappearance that she crosses the line from spectator to participant–even giving the police a description of the man who was kissing Megan. She so desperately wants to be “helpful” to be “useful” and hey, it doesn’t hurt that she gets to be right down the block from her ex-husband whom she cannot seem to get over. But is Rachel actually helpful? The police think not. Rachel is an unreliable witness, an unreliable narrator and is willing to lie to get closer to the distraught husband of the missing woman. Rachel blacks out often and harasses her ex-husband, his current wife (with whom he carried on an affair with while still married to Rachel) and their daughter. the night Megan disappears, Rachel remembers being angry with her(obviously she’s not a fan of cheaters because what has happened to her in her own life). She remembers vaguely fighting with her ex husband, seeing his wife Anna and a few other details. If only she could retrieve those memories during the black out that she would know what happened to the missing girl and perhaps find a purpose in her own destroyed life…perhaps.
I read the book over the course of a few hours on a frigid Pennsylvanian Saturday morning and it was just as advertised: a quick paced thriller. The voyeurism, the unreliable narrators, the flopping from different points of view all really worked for me and I found myself truly engrossed in the mysteries of the book. However, I have one caveat before I fully recommend the book. I found ALL the female characters tedious, odious and not fully developed: Rachel is a drunk, Anna is rude and unrepentant while Megan is damaged. I saw the ending coming pretty early on, but the story was entertaining enough that I didn’t really care.