I’ve been reading this book on and off (alternating with two other nonfiction books) for the last three weeks or maybe longer—a sure sign that my sabbatical is over, over, over. I’ve read a lot of student writing in the last four weeks and that’s made me more prone to drooling in front of the TV at the end of the day instead of picking up a book. As a result, I’ve been reading Paula Hawkins’s novel in brief bits—when I wake up and before I go to bed. The reason I’m going into all this (besides explaining my absence since Cannonballing back on 8/22/15) is that I can’t tell if this fragmented method made me like the book more or less.
I know a lot of people have read this novel already so I don’t feel the need to extensively summarize the plot—besides, I think the less you know going into it the better. The book begins with Rachel, who is riding the train back and forth to London every day, and watching life go on in the neighborhoods she passes, particularly the houses in the neighborhood she used to live in with her husband. From the very beginning you sense she’s in a bad way, drinking canned G&Ts fairly early in the afternoon and imagining happy lives for a couple, who she’s named Jess and Jason, that she frequently sees canoodling in one backyard. One sees the phrase, “Unreliable Narrator” in flashing lights above her head. In classic thriller mode, Rachel sees “Jess” out the window one day but she’s not with “Jason.” Days later, Jess, whose real name is Megan, disappears and Rachel gets sucked into the drama in ways both uncomfortable and fascinating.
Overall, I thought Hawkins created a solid thriller here—with three narrators that you can’t stand because each is awful in their own way. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I can see why people mention Gone Girl because there are similarities—unreliable narrators who make you squirm, marriages gone bad, and a big reveal. Still, this novel is much more conventional in its trajectory and less soul-suckingly bleak (and I think the bleakness of Gone Girl is one of its strengths). I wonder how this book would have turned out if Hawkins had stayed in Rachel’s head but there are also interesting connections between Rachel, Megan, and Anna (who is the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom).
Am I sorry I read this? No. Do I think it deserves all the hype? No, as well. I’ve read Gone Girl and it’s no Gone Girl.