Book Review: The Girl on the Train (2015)

Synopsis

Rachel Watson’s alcoholism and depression have caused her life to spin out of control after her husband, Tom, leaves her for another woman following a long extra-marital affair. She rides the train daily to hide from her roommate the fact that she no longer has a job because she arrived drunk at work and received a pink slip. The little pleasure she derives from her life comes from fantasizing about the people she sees out the window while on the train.

Following the disappearance of a beautiful young woman, whom Rachel dubs “Jess,” she becomes entangled in the investigation in many uncomfortable and frightening ways. As Rachel struggles to understand what is real and what is imaginary, we watch the story unfold through three separate POVs: Rachel, Megan, and Anna.

Review

I love a good unreliable narrator. Nick and Amy from Gone Girl; Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye; Tyler Durdan from Fight Club. Unreliable narrators make it a lot easier for me as a reader (or viewer) to buy a plot twist that comes out of left field. When a character is obviously fighting a war within themselves, whether it be because of maturity, narcissism, alcoholism, etc., I find their distorted reality fascinating.

Paula Hawkins’s character, Rachel, is a complete and utter mess. It is almost impossible for the reader to know what’s real and what’s not because Rachel herself is so completely lost. I felt immediately invested in her character because the details of her life evoked great sympathy from me. Some of the events she describes in the book, especially situations where she tries to piece together moments from one of her many drunken blackouts, keep a constant river of intensity and anxiety flowing behind the text. I felt on edge the entire time while reading this book.

My introduction to this novel came about as the result of a happy accident. My parents gave me the book during a trip to my hometown last fall and remarked that it was definitely worth a read. When I returned to my current abode, I made it a nice cozy home on the third shelf of my bookshelf, promising to read it at the next available opportunity. The only problem with that was I have a perpetually endless stack of books I’ve slated as “my next read,” so Ms. Hawkin’s best selling psychological thriller was shoved somewhere towards the back of the line.

It wasn’t until last Friday when my Audible app failed to successfully boot up prior to my dog Zooey’s morning walk that I revisited the forgotten title. Desperate for a book to listen to on my 30-minute leg-stretch with the pooch, I went to the Knoxville Public Library website and attempted to search for a few titles in my “to read” pile. I didn’t have much luck, and I started to get frustrated; every title I searched for had a waitlist! My dog whined at me in the doorway, hopping from front paws to back, eager to get on with our journey. So, I clicked on the “Available” tab of the audiobook section. Suddenly, there it was: “1 Copy Available: The Girl on the Train.” Relieved to find a title on my reading list, I downloaded the audiobook, loaded it onto the Overdrive app, and away we went.

From that moment on, I either had headphones in my ears, my phone playing via Bluetooth on our Jambox, or I had the Overdrive app playing on my computer. I crushed the audiobook in less than 48 hours because it was impossible to turn off.

It seems at every turn, a new more shocking fact about Rachel’s life is revealed. I won’t expose those now, but Hawkins plotted this book out with remarkable pacing; new facts were dropped on me like bombs out of the sky after I’d only just begun to recover from the last explosive tidbit. This is one of those novels that takes hold of you and won’t let go until you devour every last word, and then you feel a little sad and empty once it’s over.

Rating: 4 out of 4 Stars

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Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on The Girl on the Train? Let me know in the comments below!

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