Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

Every morning, Rachel gets up and catches the 8.04 commuter train from Ashbury to London. Every day, about halfway through the journey it stops at a signal in Witney, sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for a few minutes. While sitting their waiting, Rachel can see into the houses that back onto the line. She watches the people inside, having breakfast, getting ready to leave and she imagines lives for them, assigning them them names and careers. Her favourites are Jess and Jason. Jess, a beautiful blonde, Rachel has decided works in the fashion industry and is an artist. Her handsome husband Jason is a doctor, whose frequent absences Rachel attributes to a doctor who specialises in foreign aid. Jess and Jason are very much in love and remind Rachel of her true love, Tom, and the blissfully happy times they spent together. In the evening, Rachel takes the 17.56 home and she checks in on the Witney residents. These events structure her day and, I suspect, her life. 

The interest Rachel has in Witney is intense. Her day is structured around those two stops and her surveillance is constant and odd. While reading, I started to ask myself why does she care so much; why is she so invested in other people's lives? As we start learn more about Rachel, we find out she was happy and now she is not. Something happened, something big, that resulted in her happy loving marriage ending and Racel lodging with a university friend Cathy, a woman she describes as "a nice person, in a forceful sort of way She makes you notice her niceness. Her niceness is writ large, it is her defining quality and she needs it acknowledged, often, daily almost, which can be tiring." Something bad has happened for Rachel to be in the place where she is, and the spectre of this bad thing hangs over the opening chapters of this novel, building tension and setting up Rachel as one of my favourite literary figures - the unreliable narrator.

One morning, Rachel is shocked to see Jess kissing another man, betraying Jason, who Rachel has decided is the perfect husband. The next day, she is shocked to see Jess's face plastered all over the news. Her name is actually Megan she has gone missing. Her husband is not Jason but Scott, who works in IT and is prime suspect number one. Rachel is convinced he is innocent and has decided she must tell him and the police that Rachel was unfaithful, but can she leave the isolated half-life she's been living in order to do this? Is she able to take the step from being the girl on the train to being involved in a real-life missing person's case?

I really enjoyed this book. The tension at the centre of the tale is established early and effectively and grows steadily throughout the book as the story is told by different characters, including Megan. Comparisons have been made between The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. They are both tense psychological thrillers but they are different in that The Girl on the Train is less dark than Gone Girl and the characters will be much less polarising. I think if you liked Gone Girl you will probably like this but also the audience for The Girl on the Train will find the book less polarising.

A cracking read that I finished in an afternoon. Five stars.

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