Friday, 24 June 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

2015  336 pages  Doubleday

This was one of the big It Books from last year and I very rarely read books when they’re new and surrounded by hype. I don’t have any particular indie pride or anything; I just have to be in the mood for certain books. It was the same with Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so when I found a second hand copy of The Girl on the Train last week I felt like I fancied a thrilling read.

I’ve heard a lot about The Girl on the Train being referred to as the New Gone Girl, or more specifically, Gone Girl 2 and I can kind of see where people are coming from with that. The plots have a similar ring to them: a young, suburban housewife goes missing and an investigation gets underway to try and find her, with the initial finger being pointed at her husband as being the guilty culprit. Only this time the story is told by someone on the outside, someone who saw something from the train the day before she went missing, and it’s this information which sets everything off.

Sound pretty good from the get go, and as it turns out, it was a really good read. I didn’t necessarily love the story in its entirety – the characters are all terrible people one way or another, but I couldn’t put it down and I finished it in less than two days.

The story is told from the perspective of three different women who appear in the book. The main narrator is Rachel, the ‘Girl’ on the train, who takes the same train in to London every day and passes the same block of houses. Bored on her daily commute, she notices the same couple when the train pauses behind their house and she fantasises about what their lives are like, giving them names – “Jason” and “Jess” – imagining them to have this perfect, happy marriage. Of course one day she sees something that puts a spanner in her fantasy couples life and she gets drawn in to the life of these two strangers.

From reading this blurb-style synopsis you’d probably think that Rachel is just doing her bit to help the investigation – a woman goes missing, she saw something that might help, she goes to the police. Job done. Only it’s never as simple as that, obviously, because Rachel is a hot mess and is frankly one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever come across. The house of her fantasy couple “Jason” and “Jess” is actually just a few doors down from where Rachel used to live with her now ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife Anne – who he cheated on Rachel with. So every day she sees the home she once shared with the man who left her for another woman as they raise their baby daughter together. But then, you find out she’s taking the train in to London everyday despite the fact that she lost her job months ago and she’s trying to act normal so as not to raise the suspicions of her flatmate. On top of that, Rachel has a serious drinking problem and is forever getting wasted and blacking out, which makes for a very disjointed read.  I mean, it’s a mystery thriller so you’re not really supposed to know what’s going on but you get the idea – you’re trying to piece the story together along with Rachel.

Oh, but there’s more; it turns out Rachel was in the neighbourhood the night “Jess” (or Megan Hipwell which is her actual name), disappeared. But of course she was blackout drunk and can’t remember a thing, so she spends a lot of time trying to remember what happened that night and if she saw anything. Like I said, very unreliable narrator.

The other two narrators are Megan, the woman who went missing, and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband Tom. The latter of whom I took an immediate dislike to and I was ready to label her a Complete Psychopath almost instantly. It’s not even that I disliked her because Anna and Rachel hate each other, she was just annoying – all wrapped up in her perfect life with her perfect husband and the parts written from her POV never let you forget that. But like I said, all of these characters are terrible in their own ways and none of them are particularly likeable. Even Rachel, who made me physically cringe every time she got smashed and did something embarrassing. Her ex Tom, who Rachel still pines after quite tragically, comes across as a self-involved, womanising, asshole and the whole time I’m thinking, why Rachel do you want to go back to that cheating douchebag? It sounds like I’m slagging the book off here and I’m not, the mystery and the thrill and the who-done-it feel to the story are really good. But the characters are terrible people and I think that’s the way they were meant to be.

There’s also another Gone Girl similarity I picked up on: Megan and her husband, who is actually called Scott, feel very much like Nick and Amy. They look like they live this perfect, domestic life but there are cracks beneath the surface and whilst Megan isn’t any Amy Elliot Dunne, they’ve both got dark secrets. Megan is also the third narrator and her parts are told in a different time frame, taking place months before her disappearance and fill you in on the events that led up to what Rachel witnesses from the train. And this is just a head’s up: the chapters are all dated and it’s important that you take note of these because the time jumps can be confusing if you just dismiss them. It didn’t irritate me or anything, but they could be quite easy to forget about.

On the whole, I really liked this and it kept me up late so I could finally find out who-done-it which is why I’m giving this four stars. Sometimes you just need a book that grabs you and you can’t put it down until you’ve cracked it and this fulfilled my expectations very well. I’ll admit, I’m not great at sussing out mystery thrillers so the ending came as a nice satisfying surprise, plus I’m actually quite excited to see the film adaptation later this year which I have high hopes will be as gripping as the book.

Overall rating: 4 stars

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