Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning, which often stops at the same signal. She sees a couple in a house from the train, “Jess and Jason”. Their life is perfect, not like hers, but more like the one she lost. Rachel sees something shocking from the train, a moment, but she cannot keep it to herself. She tells the police, and so becomes involves in what happens next. It’s a difficult book to review without revealing the plot, rather like We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves, and like that review, I shall not include any spoilers.
The Girl on the Train is an absorbing read. Hawkins gives us three different narrators, Rachel, Anna and Megan, whose lives become more entwined, and enable the reader to have a wider view of the unfolding story. There is a twist in the narration, however, in that each of the narrators is unreliable, and so the reader has to decide who to trust with the truth. An alcoholic, a liar or a cheat? I think this is a real strength of the book, yes, it is well plotted, but the development of the characters is excellent. Hawkins’ main characters are all quite unlikable, with some despicable characteristics, and yet you read on. At the end I was left thinking that none of the remaining characters had any hope of recovery – at least, I didn’t trust them to change. Isn’t that the hope in all of us? The mystery of the book was solved, but I don’t think the people were at all. It is clever writing. It reminded me of the characterisation in JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy, but this is somehow much darker.
Hawkins’ themes in The Girl on the Train are hard hitting – alcoholism, domestic abuse, childlessness, infidelity and untimely deaths – and are woven to create this story that is fascinating, creepy and tragic. There is not much warmth or light in the book, except perhaps the rather wishy-washy flat mate of Rachel’s. Those moments of happiness remembered from the past are more like illusions. Rather like the seemingly perfect “Jess and Jason”, the layers are peeled away revealing a more murky, toxic environment and past as the mystery unfolds.
The Girl on the Train makes for good holiday reading – absorbing but not too heavy going.