Book Review: The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (Doubleday – 2015)

This is the first reading choice of a new book club I have joined (coffee and cakes are also involved, its positively decadent!).  We haven’t discussed it yet but I’m pretty sure that none of the other members read my blog so it should be safe for me to review it.

The girl on the train is Rachel, a woman whose life has clearly hit the buffers and who numbs herself with drink.  She gets the same train every day, morning and evening, and passes her old house which holds painful memories for her.  She also regularly sees another couple in a nearby house and imagines their perfect life, calling them Jess and Jason.  We’re clearly meant to pity Rachel.  I found her pitiful but had little sympathy (does that make me hard-nosed?)  As Rachel herself says “how shaming it is to be pitied.”

We learn that Rachel’s former husband Tom and his new family (wife Anna and baby Evie) and still live at the house she passes twice a day.  Rachel is clearly unable to let go and move on.

The mythical ideal couple, Jess and Jason, turn out to be a husband and wife called Megan and Scott.  Whilst Rachel seems jealous of the perfect life she has imagined for the couple, Megan is unhappy and wants to escape her life; to do something else or be another person.

After an alcoholic binge, Rachel decides to go to her old address.  She wakes up bruised and bloody and with no memories of what happened.  On the same night, Megan goes missing.

Can Rachel piece together any memory of what happened on that night and can she trust her recollections, was the marriage that she misses so much really as good as she remembered?  Why was she covered in blood herself?

As a thriller, this book was ok.   Few of the characters were particularly likeable and so I didn’t really care what happened to them or how their particular dilemmas were resolved.  The ‘suspense’ in the book is meant to be generated by Rachel’s memory loss, without which the story could be wrapped up within about 50 pages.  Whilst regaining fragments of her memory, Rachel also conveniently recounts episodes from her married life, which if revealed earlier in the book would again allow matters to come to a swift conclusion.  Would someone obsessed by a former marriage, to the point of being emotionally crippled by it for years, suddenly start to wonder if it was as good as they remembered?  I think not, but there’s obviously not many book sales in a thriller where a reliable witness comes forward and solves the mystery.

This has been a very popular book and a film is to be made of it.  Whilst I thought it was reasonable, I wouldn’t try to persuade a friend to read it.