Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

“To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists. 

Just goes to show”

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every evening. Every day she passes the same Victorian terraces, stops at the same signal, and sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof terrace. Jason and Jess seem so happy together. 

Then one day Rachel sees something she shouldn’t have seen, and soon after, Jess disappears. Suddenly Rachel is chasing the truth and unable to trust anyone. Not even herself.

Review

When I first read about this book’s premise, I knew I had to read it.  Not to sound like too much of a creeper but who doesn’t love a bit of people watching?  When you catch the same train, run the same route or visit the same coffee shop every day, it’s hard not to imagine that you know the people that you see on a daily basis or to *maybe* make up your own ideas about what they’re like.  The Girl on the Train takes that idea and twists it into something sinister. 

This is one of those books that’s almost impossible to review.  There’s a lot things that makes this novel something that’s really rather good but unfortunately a lot of them are things that I really think you should find out for yourself.  They’re maybe things that you could find out from other bloggers’ reviews, sure, but I don’t want to be the one (or one of the ones) that you’re disappointed in when (like me) you read something and realise that the whole novel would have been more interesting if it had been a surprise.  Suffice to say, this is one of those thrillers where you almost never feel as though you have a handle on what’s going on.  I have a huge weakness for those thrillers.

I think that Rachel is someone you can either really feel for or someone you hate.  Personally, I couldn’t help but sympathise with her.  She’s tragic in so many ways and utterly infuriating but my heart broke for her.  I can see why she might irritate some readers and I had my moments of frustration but overall, I just felt an immeasurable amount of pity for her.  What really sold her to me, though, was how damn unreliable she was.  If there’s one thing that I love, it’s a narrator you can’t ever quite believe.  As far as mysteries and thrillers go, there is nothing that builds tension quite like reading half a story.  Rachel’s existence is shrouded in lies, black-outs and doubt.  Her confusion is believable and isn’t half as difficult to rationalise as narrators that have memory problems, for example, so Hawkins doesn’t have to rely on a loosely described brain disorder or frustrate readers with slightly inconsistent explanations about the narrator’s flaky powers of recall.  It just fits.

The other characters I was less sure about.  There were some that were compelling and some that made me want to punch something.  I loved the revelations about ‘Jason and Jess’, the couple that Rachel sees from the train, but I was much less convinced about others.  Obviously pinning your life’s happiness on strangers that you’ve never met is a questionable life choice but the process by which Rachel learns so much more about her ‘happy couple’ ideal is somehow still quite sobering.  There are a few things that make this a novel for the 21st century but I think Rachel’s need to connect at any cost is one of them.

So far so great.  I’m convinced that if The Girl on the Train had been about 100 pages shorter, I would have been throwing on my Caps Lock and hollering at you to get yourself to a bookshop as soon as possible just so that you could experience it for yourself.  As it is, though, I found that there were some chapters that were quite repetitive.  The various layers of deception were what kept me reading but there were a few occasions where I needed something new.  Nothing is ever quite right but eventually the same kind of confusion and the same frustrations become a bit wearing.

The Girl on the Train is a book made for devouring in chunks.  Not because there are gaping plot holes that should be skimmed over but because in many ways you won’t be able to help it.  I won’t pretend that it’s perfect but it’s really, really good.  I didn’t see the ending coming (although to be fair I never do).  I thought it was spot on and I don’t think there’s really much more you can say for a book in this genre. 

Overall:  The Girl on the Train is a decent thriller. It’s entertaining and it’s a good book but it’s not a game changing one.  That’s really all there is to it.

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Date finished: 21 December 2014
Format: Paperback
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thanks, Transworld!
Genre: Thriller
Pictured Edition Published:  The Girl on the Train was released on the 15th January by Transworld