Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books   2015
336 Pages      Mystery/Thriller

Rachel's life is a mess. She's divorced, jobless, alcoholic. She gets on the train every morning from her London suburb and wanders the city until work hours are over, when she returns  to the flat she shares with a friend. She can't bear to tell her friend that she has no job. One of the daily train stops is opposite the house that she shared with her husband Tom, who now lives there with his new wife Anna and their baby. Every day she stares at the house where she feels her life disintegrated. She also stares at a neighboring house and fantasizes about the young couple that lives there—creating an entire life scenario for them. When the young wife, Megan, disappears, Rachel realizes that she has important information that must be shared . 

Rachel, however, is not the only unreliable narrator of the enfolding story. Anna tells the story from her point of view, as does Megan. They are not the only unreliable people involved in the story: Rachel's ex-husband Tom as well as Megan's husband Scott may also be unreliable witnesses to the unfolding events. To tell any more of the plot would spoil the fun. 

The emphasis of the The Girl on the Train is on the mysteries that surround the people that we think we know, even our spouses.  The reviewer in the Boston Globe says that "Hawkins emphasizes the parallels among these three ostensibly different women, and close the book with the knowledge that they share—as we might—unexpected affinities with people they pass by each day, those who they see but will never truly know." 

Rachel interjects herself into the lives of the people at that train stop in ways that most people would not do, nor would they think of doing. That doesn't keep the majority of us from fantasizing a bit about what it would be like to live in some other place or some other house or with some other person.  Does that make us unreliable witnesses to the events of our own lives?

On a subway ride in New York City several years ago, I sat next to a young couple who were making out rather voraciously. Frankly, it was pretty disgusting. The man on the other side of the couple couldn't stand it anymore and complained loudly to the young man, who jumped up and yelled threateningly into the face of the complainer. When he finally calmed down, he sat back down and ranted on and on under his breath, until the complaining passenger got off the train. What was fascinating to me was not this scene, which was definitely a bit scary, but the reaction of the woman who was sitting opposite me. She was about my age and must have recognized that I was a tourist. She watched me intently through the entire incident, trying to decipher my reaction to the unfolding scene. She was trying to look at the world through my eyes. What is reality, and what is our perception of reality?

I was reminded of a beautiful mansion on the lake shore in Duluth, my home city. Every time I walked by it as a girl, I pretended that I lived there. The lawn, the gardens, the porches looking over the lake—magnificent.  Then, one night, the owner was murdered by her son-in-law on the main stairway in the house.  Suddenly, the house became a tourist attraction, and the beautiful fantasy became an ugly reality. 

Everyone has compared The Girl on the Train with Gone Girl. I think that they are similar only because of the unreliable narrators. I enjoyed them both, although I think that Gone Girl twisted up my mind a bit more than The Girl on the Train. Read them and see what you think.

The New York Times did a very interesting article about the author, Paula Hawkins.
The Shelf Awareness review which calls The Girl on the Train an "intricate, multilayered psychological suspense debut."
The Boston Globe review.

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