The debut novel by British journalist turned author, Paula Hawkins, “The Girl on the Train” is a cleverly plotted, well written, psychological thriller. Published by Riverhead Books on January 13, 2015, the 336 page novel, centers on the main protagonist, Rachel Watson. She is someone who has low self-esteem and struggles with an addiction to alcohol. Her liquor consumption sometimes causes her to suffer blackouts; it has also led to her being fired from her job. In order to keep that fact from her friend, Cathy, whom she shares a house with, Monday through Friday Rachel dresses as if she is leaving for work, and boards the same train to London.
Rachel looks forward to one stop in particular during her commute. The train line she takes travels past a number of houses, the backs of which are visible to the commuters. In one particular house, she frequently hopes to catch glimpses of a couple who she has taken to calling Jess and Jason. She projects onto the couple an idyllic existence. Part of Rachel’s wishful thinking is manifested by her own relationship shortcomings. Several houses down from where Jess and Jason live, is the home Rachel used to share with her ex-husband, Tom, who she is still in love with. He has since moved on and re-married Anna; the couple have an infant, daughter.
One day, an event transpires that destroys the ideal world Rachel has created for Jason and Jess, when Jess, whose real name is Meagan Hipwell, vanishes. Making matter worse, is that prior to Meagan’s disappearance, Rachel observed her sharing an intimate moment with another man. After the police discover a body, that may or may not be Meagan’s remains, she is convinced that what she viewed from her seat on the train is directly linked to what happened. Rachel resorts to dangerous tactics by inserting herself into the investigation. She attempts to befriend Scott Hipwell, even though, being the husband, he is a prime person of interest to the authorities.
Rachel’s story is one of three perspectives the reader is given. The chapters that convey her point-of-view, which is unreliable, given her drinking and frequent forgetting of subsequent events, are interspersed by those which convey the mindset of Anna and Meagan. The chapters which Megan narrates involve her life before the night she was last seen, and deal with her far from perfect marriage to Scott. She details: her infidelity with Dr. Kamel Abdic, her psychiatrist; the lies she uses to carry out her deceptions on her husband; and the guilty feelings she has over a dark secret from her past, that I won’t spoil by revealing. Whereas Rachel struggles with her addiction to liquor, Megan has an unyielding thirst for intimacy that she can’t seem to get in her marriage. Anna, however, who cheated with Tom behind Rachel’s back, is seemingly guilt free. She revels in the fact that she was the victor in the battle for Tom’s love. Her character comes across as thoroughly unlikable, whether it be her put downs regarding Rachel’s appearance, in comparison to her own looks, or her arrogant attitude. One of the only redeeming qualities she possesses is her love for her daughter, and the fear that Rachel might harm the child based on an incident from the past.
The suspense and tension are kept at a good level throughout the novel, all leading up to a satisfying conclusion. I didn’t want to get into too many plot points, or reveal anything that would ruin the reading experience for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. This is the sort of novel where the less you know before reading it, the better. From the gripping beginning, through its twists and turns, I found it a real page turner, that was difficult to put down.