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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

There's been a lot of comparisons of The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl, and I can sort of see why--they're both thrillers with female protagonists and unreliable narrators--but the parallels are pretty thin. I for one liked it better than Gone Girl. I found it more suspenseful, more emotional, and I liked the unreliable narrators here more (there are three narrators). I felt that they were unreliable in a normal way, like how all of us misremember things, have a slightly different perspective on an incident than the other people involved, rather than being manipulative. True, one narrator is omitting an important detail, without which the book would have been half as long and not suspenseful, but I think an omission is different than a lie. For that matter, I think it was the author, not the narrator, omitting that. That narrator certainly knew who she was talking about, even if we readers didn't.

So every day on her way to work, Rachel's train stops at this one spot on the tracks where Rachel can see into the backyard and kitchen of a particular house. The couple she sees there seem ideal to her--happy, loving, fun. She imagines what their lives must be like--so different from hers. She's divorced, heavily drinking, and actually not really going to work but instead going to wander around London for eight hours so her roommate won't find out she's been fired. Then one day Rachel sees something she shouldn't. And the next day, the wife is missing. She needs to tell someone, but who, and how can she get them to believe her? She gets pulled into the mystery, and it gets much more complicated than she had imagined.

I found the suspense that Ms. Hawkins creates so subtle and skillful that at times I almost didn't want to keep reading, because I was so worried about what would happen to Rachel. But I also was compelled to keep going. I found the depiction of someone in active alcoholism very fascinating, along with the requisite memory gaps. Rachel managed both to have mostly created her own misery, and yet be sympathetic. The three narrative characters were very interestingly drawn, three-dimensional characters, who often looked very different from the other narrator's perspectives. The alternating point of view I found very effective here. Not only did it allow for showing us scenes where the main character wasn't there, but it showed how Rachel (and the others) look to outsiders, how our internal view of ourselves conflicts with how others see us, and how it's so much easier to empathize when you know a person's history. So it an action-packed thrilled, but also a deep study in psychology and messed up people. An excellent escape when you need a distraction, but not fluffy or silly. It's a fast and fun read.

My mother sent me a copy of this book.

1 comment:

Kay said...

I think you said all of this very well and explained very well. I also found that I liked this book better than Gone Girl. I did have some issues with Rachel and her self-destructive life, but much of that was from experience with someone who was very like this. I know that colored my thoughts. I almost feel that I need to read this one again and see if I would have a better feel for things because I've liked it more afterwards. :-)