When a random woman at Costco goes out of her way to recommend a book to you, then you listen–especially when that book is already on your to-read list. I had to wait forever for The Girl on the Train (2015) by Paula Hawkins to become available at my library. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had heard good things.
The Girl on the Train is a murder mystery. In many ways it reminded me of Gone Girl and other books by Gillian Flynn–primarily because both Flynn and Hawkins excel at writing unlikable characters. This story centers around Rachel, one of the most pathetic protagonists I’ve ever seen. She is an alcoholic whose husband left her for another woman. Her drinking caused her to lose her job, and she’s living with a friend who is too nice to kick her out. She spends her time on the train, pretending to go into the city for work, chasing after her ex-husband, and drinking. I can’t remember another book where I was cringing so hard and so often at the protagonist’s actions.
The train always slows down at the same point in the tracks, and Rachel always watches out the window to get a glimpse of the image of her “perfect” couple. They look so beautiful and loving as they drink coffee on their rooftop deck, and Rachel has invented a romantic backstory for both of them. What makes this semi-obsession with strangers even more disturbing is that their house is just down the street, and even the same design, as the one she used to share with her ex-husband. When Rachel’s perfect woman ends up murdered, Rachel’s unhealthy interest in the case has her recklessly throwing herself into the middle of things. To make matters even more difficult, Rachel blacks out when she gets drunk and can’t trust her memories.
Besides Rachel, the story circles around two couples: Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna as well as Scott and Megan–the perfect couple from the train until Megan is killed. The characters in this book are, on the whole, disturbing, and I would rather not know any of them. It did make for a fascinating story, though.
On the whole, this was a well-written book with believable characters, a nice, twisted mystery, and plenty of suspense. The nature of the story and the characters’ poor choices had me cringing throughout the book, and I felt like I needed a hot shower once I finished. However, I would recommend it to anyone interested in dark, gritty, psychological mysteries.
If I had any complaints, it would be that the male characters had less nuance than the female characters. We get chapters from the point of view of Rachel, Anna, and Megan, so it is easier to know their feelings and sympathize with them. The men, on the other hand, remain mysterious through most of the novel. And although they range in degree of awfulness, their awfulness seems to come more naturally and unexplained than the women.
Read all of my reviews on my blog.