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Book Review: The Girl On the Train

The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins

Constantly compared to Gone Girl because it involves a woman and murder, The Girl On The Train is a very good thriller in its own right. Our main unreliable narrator, Rachel, is an unemployed alcoholic who takes the daily train to town to fool her roommate into thinking she’s still working. On one daily stop she sees into the houses of her old neighborhood where her ex Tom now lives with his new wife and former mistress Anna (and their child), but Rachel forms an attachment to a couple down the street that she builds up in her mind as the perfect couple. The plot is set in motion when Rachel observes Megan (of the perfect couple) cheat on Scott. Shortly thereafter, Megan disappears, and Rachel, still drinking heavily and essentially stalking Tom, wakes up with bloodstains and no memory.  The other women also get a turn narrating, with similarly unreliable accounts and some time-shifting.

While the surface story is about what happened to Megan, the true mastery of the book is in the psychological insights it offers. The characters are, for the most part, between flawed and terrible. Rachel’s growing despair that she tries to tame with alcohol, Anna’s jealous paranoia, and ultimately Megan’s loneliness; all of these are shown in subtle but powerful ways. Rachel, for example, explains what it’s like be too drunk to remember an embarrassing incident (“You want to be able to remember it for yourself, to see it and experience it in your own memory, so that – how did you put it? – so that it belongs to you?”) and wants to “scream with the frustration of it, the not knowing, the uselessness of my own brain.” (Ed.: Guilty.)

The women also agree on one point: the pleasure of control they get from being attractive to a man:

“That’s the thing I like most about it, having power over someone. That’s the intoxicating thing.”
“I was enjoying myself too much. Being the other woman is a huge turn-on, there’s no point denying it: you’re the one he can’t help but betray his wife for, even though he loves her. That’s just how irresistible you are.”
“I never meant for it to go anywhere, I didn’t want it to go anywhere. I just enjoyed feeling wanted; I liked the feeling of control.”

It’s an understandable temptation, and it’s particularly interesting to see it framed from three very different women.

Other highlights, sans context:

“Parents don’t care about anything but their children. They are the centre of the universe; they are all that really counts. Nobody else is important, no one else’s suffering or joy matters, none of it is real.”

“How much better life must have been for jealous drunks before emails and texts and mobile phones, before all this electronica and the traces it leaves.”