The Girl on the Train is not a book I would have chosen to read, however I recently joined a local book group and this was the latest selection on the program. Although I’m far from a literary snob, I tend to steer clear of books that are overtly hyped and quickly turned into films.
The Girl on the Train starts by introducing the reader to Rachel, whose daily train travel is highly relatable for those who experience public transport on a regular basis. It soon becomes evident that Rachel has a drinking problem however, and she has lost her partner Tom, her home, and her job. Rachel is lodging with and old friend named Cathy and has a lonely existence, spending most of her time isolated. At the same signal stop of her daily commute, Rachel views a suburban home and its occupants, fantasising about the idyllic life she imagines they live.
The novel is predominantly segmented into morning nd evening narration. It has an epistolary feel, and when it shifts viewpoint from Rachel to Megan, one of the inhabitants of the house Rachel has been observing, the reader becomes aware that Rachel, Tom and Megan are interconnected. Rachel and Megan’s stories are told from differing timelines, originally one year apart, and gradually intersect. This structure helps to provide tension as Rachel embroils herself in a mystery which she may be able to assist with, were it not for a drinking binge which rendered her memory a blank.
The novel continues on with themes of loneliness, sadness and adultery, hinting that perceptions of people aren’t always what they seem. It also explores the varying ways people deal with trauma. While some of the characters’ thoughts, flaws and surroundings are relatable, I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable. This could be the writer’s intention as all have potential criminal involvement, but it lead to me finding the story more irritating than thrilling. I fluctuated between feeling sorry for Rachel and being frustrated by her, particularly as she alienates herself and continues a cycle of lies, the wretched yet exasperating nature of her alcoholism. With the image of trains ever present, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a metaphor for Rachel being a train wreck.
About a third of the way through the novel I was hoping it wouldn’t continue along the same path and it does pick up speed a little, with the introduction of another character’s perspective. I was pleased that most secrets were not obvious until Hawkins chose to reveal them but I won’t be rushing to see the film adaptation.
Every day the same. Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. Until today. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…