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. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed.
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins Review
A Domestic Thriller to Set your Pulse Racing
Being a novelist is hard work and nobody knows that more than Paula Hawkins. Despite many describing her book The Girl On The Train as her debut novel, that is far from the truth. In reality, Paula Hawkins had in fact written four previous novels under a pseudonym. Knowing that fact, it makes the tension in her latest read all that more understandable. With her career as a writer tearing towards a black hole and her worry and panic over making a career sustainable, it is hardly surprising that she chose to base her book around a fast paced train service. The fear and frenetic fury comes through in her writing and only makes you read with more veracity. Despite Hawkins struggle to get her first four novels into the charts, having read The Girl On The Train, I am ever so pleased she did not jump onto the tracks.
The Girl On The Train is insightful, tense and highly addictive.
The Girl On The Train has had a stratospheric rise to the top of the charts. Hot on the heels of the incredibly popular Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl On The Train fits firmly within the Domestic Noir genre. The two books are not dissimilar in their initial plot musings; a flawed, damaged wife, struggling with psychological issues written in the voice of an incredibly unreliable narrator. For any of you who love a real brain twisting psycho thriller, this book will not disappoint.
Throughout the novel, Hawkins explores the mental effects of an imploding marriage in an incredibly unique and clever way. She uses three separate unstable voices to tell the same story, allowing the reader to question what is really going on. Hawkins allows us to both love and hate her main protagonist, Rachel, right from the first page. Her dramatic outbursts, drunken escapades and outlandish views lead you to question her sanity, and as a reader you do not warm to her straight away but find yourself intrigued by her motivations. Rachel, is clearly an alcoholic and deeply scarred by her divorce. Although her ex husband has more than moved on, and had a family with his new wife, it seems Rachel simply can not let go of the past. She has spiraled into an obsessive depression which culminates in the loss of her job; a fact that she hides from her only ally and friend, room-mate Cathy. As we evolve through the book we can see that the obsession she has developed has not attached itself to her ex-husband, or even his new wife and child… but to that of two perfect strangers living just a few doors down from her old home. The young couple, who she names Jason and Jess, look perfectly normal from the outset, it is obvious Rachel is projecting her need for normality onto the outside world.
“They’re happy, I can tell. They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and me five years ago. They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.” – Rachel
During her morning commute, the train Rachel is traveling on stops at the same signal stop it has done each morning. Only this particular morning Rachel is stunned by something she sees briefly out of her carriage window. The next day when a story hits the news that a woman named Megan has gone missing, Rachel quickly realises it is ‘her Jess‘.
Rachel’s already messy life begins to unravel as she worries about ‘Jess‘. Did she run away? Was she murdered? What about the man she saw Megan (Jess) kissing, could he be involved? Her growing obsession leads her to the conclusion that she must act on the information she has. The only problem that faces her now, is that even she is not sure she is a credible source. Her drinking has gotten so bad that now her blackouts are becoming more frequent, a fact that the police are quick to highlight. Who will believe a drunk who has an obsession with a stranger she only sees though the window of a passing train each morning.
Despite her worries, Rachel cannot keep away and begins to entangle herself in increasingly suspicious circumstances. What Rachel does not expect, is the possibility that her ex-husband and his new wife may also be involved in this knotted web of lies and deceit.
It is clear to see in this, Hawkins’ fifth novel, that she can more than stand her ground, adding to the plethora of female authors who seem to be exploding onto the Psychological Thriller stage of late. Her effortless style draws you deeper into the world she has created and has you questioning every assumption you have had from the beginning.
The three unreliable and complicated narrators, Rachel, (the alcoholic ex wife,) Megan, (the seemingly perfect yet flawed stranger) and Anna (the angry new wife) leave you questioning reality in a similar way to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. You will never look out of the window of a train in the same way again, or even look at the face of a stranger without questioning what goes on behind closed doors.
Authors such as Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn have well and truly opened the door to reveal the murkiness that sits behind the closed doors of modern marriage and has us asking whether female crime and domestic thrillers will quickly over take the popularity of traditional thrillers. Hawkins, and in particular The Girl On The Train, make me feel incredibly proud that we have such talented female writers emerging into the charts.
Forget the first four books Paula, because your fifth was a smash hit and I for one am very much looking forward to reading what ever you tackle in the future.
The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins, is published by Penguin.