I know I’m late to the party on this book, and that it was a Very Big Deal some time ago, but kind of like the Martian it took me a while to catch up.
Frankly? Unlike the Martian, with this book I don’t think I actually missed much.
Rachel is a drunken woman who is out of work and rides the train back and forth; she is the titular Girl. Only, not so much, because she’s not young enough to be a girl any more, by my way of thinking. She is kind of stalking her ex-husband and his new wife (or is she?); she’s drinking to the point of blackout; and she stumbles onto a mystery about two people she saw on her daily ride on the train, people about whom she had created a story.
My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. (Kindle edition, location 59)
That line alone was enough to tell me whodunnit. And also the kind of book I was in for reading. Rachel is not mentally healthy and she is an unreliable narrator, and she tells us both those things in the early pages of the book. She’s also achingly lonely because she doesn’t know how to be alone, but she also has significant — and justifiable — trust issues, and this is why she starts making up stories about the couple in the house a few doors down from the one that ‘used to be hers.’
Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the last time I had meaningful physical contact with another person, just a hug or a heartfelt squeeze of my hand, and my heart twitches. (location 117)
And for me to complete this review, I will now warn: spoilers ahead.
It felt really obvious to me that Tom had been gaslighting Rachel all along, telling her things that weren’t true about herself and the world around her until she believed she was as terrible as he told her she was. From the very beginning, I believed there had been a murder, and that Tom was the murderer, and that he was going to try and frame Rachel for it. Minimum. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t really care why. Because, frankly, I didn’t care about any of these people. The only one I had any sympathy for was Rachel’s long-suffering housemate.
I wanted to care about Rachel. I did; not only because she’s the protagonist of the book but because she’s clearly suffering from emotional injuries from a number of the people in her life. And because I know first-hand what hell depression can be, how it can make everything seem colorless and pointless.
I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head. (location 159)
The problem for me was that Rachel’s method of trying to regain control, which I am willing to lay money she never had, was to stalk people. Her ex. The man with the murdered wife. The ex’s new wife. The psychiatrist.
An argument can be made that Hawkins has written an exceptional book, because I was able to pick up Rachel’s mental state quickly from her clues about Rachel’s history. But the book is less a mystery, and not a psychological thriller at all; it’s an examination of depression, narcissistic injury, and an abuser’s manipulation. I’m not one for “literary” fiction, and this is the kind of book to reinforce my disinterest.
I didn’t like the story or the characters at all. The writing was good, but the lack of stars on this review is intentional.