The short: 3/5 ✦. A quick read of a thriller without much substance, but uses well-written characters, a tight plot, and a twisty mystery to make up for it.
Note: There are spoilers in this review, albeit marked; just a warning!
It probably won’t surprise anybody to learn that I heard about this book due to the hype surrounding the upcoming movie, as well as many comparisons to Gone Girl. What may actually be surprising that I personally have never read that book! (I’m so late to the party – it’s on my list, don’t worry~)
That being said, I had no expectations for The Girl on the Train, besides the intriguing synopsis. I’ve not done a great deal of train travel myself, but who hasn’t been journeying somewhere and idly wondering where everyone else is going, or passing houses and wondering about the people living in them? I think that type of imagination is part of the reader mindset, which is why Rachel, the main character, doesn’t come across as overly creepy when she begins to obsess over a couple she sees every day on the train to work. (Even “obsess” is a bit of a strong word, at least in the beginning; her life is a mess, and the woman she sees is picture perfectly happy, of course one might think about them.)
I’m saving my spoilers for the end of this review, so to say that there’s a twist to the ending isn’t anything you couldn’t glean from the inside blurb. I did not see itcoming. I’m actually pretty terrible at predicting whodunit, even though I adore mysteries and have read a great many. Somehow, the standard tropes don’t always stick with me (to be fair, I mostly read Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, and nothing she writes can be trusted!). I know many reviewers solved the mystery straightaway and thus found the remainder of the book boring. I can see that, since 75% of the plot is devoted to building up the story and fleshing out the characters. But since I didn’t catch on, I was intrigued the entire time (though I did feel a bit of a dork for not figuring it out sooner).
The last parts were especially chilling, when all the facts are laid out and all the pieces are in place. I was frightened, I admit, since I wasn’t sure how this would end. This is adult fiction, after all, not everybody gets a happy ending! But I won’t say anything more than that.
Overall, the story is fairly simple; it’s more about the characters, whom were admittedly pretty terrible people, especially the men. The women I found something to sympathize with, and their voices were strong – I was able to tell who was speaking in each switched POV, though Anna was a bit weak compared to Megan and Rachel. Megan’s story was also little predictable, so it’s Rachel who has to carry the plot, and I thought she did so fairly well. Her drinking wasn’t something I could relate to, but I think we’ve all had our own dark times, and her journey to get better is what keeps you rooting for her in spite of all the self-pity and terrible decisions.
I really hated Scott and I really hated that he got away with emotional abuse toward Megan (Kamal was totally right), and also received no punishment for hurting Rachel and locking her in his house. Even Rachel gets over it quickly, which is terrifying to me.
I also didn’t like how the ending played out. I had no idea it was Tom until Rachel had her blackout epiphany, and like her, I saw how everything fit into place. To me, that does make for a good story since it made sense and I actually felt just as shocked and frightened as Rachel was. So kudos to the author for that! However, the conclusion was a little too cliché – OF COURSE Tom came out right at that moment and OF COURSE there was a weapon available for Rachel to use. I mean, I know Tom is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs by this point (unfortunately also a clichéd narrative tactic), but having killed once already, there’s not much reason why he wouldn’t immediately do so again. He was going to kill Rachel no matter what, Anna was a bit of a tossup, and I don’t think he would’ve hurt Evie – though every time he touched her, I wanted to scream – so him dallying around and then the chapters being cut short just seemed to be a cheap ploy to build suspense; Hawkins does this a few times throughout the book, and I wasn’t a fan. I also didn’t understand how Rachel managed to pull Anna aside to tell her to call 999, since Tom was RIGHT THERE. The whole end was a bit of a mess, to be honest, though of course I flew through the pages, hoping that Tom would get his comeuppance.
Kamal was a true side character, and though I entertained the idea it was him for awhile, that did seem too obvious. But I thought it was odd that he was the only character of color (at least, if I read everyone else’s sparse descriptions correctly). I know England doesn’t have the same racial issues we do in the States, but I’m thinking some racial profiling was likely going on, even though Hawkins doesn’t make that an issue. Not being POC herself, I’m not sure that she should have, but he seemed very much a token minority character, and I wish there had been more diversity so Kamal, lovely and flawed as he was, wouldn’t seem so suspicious from a purely physical standpoint.
Last note: I didn’t like the title. Rachel is a woman, not a girl, no matter how many title drops are put in the narrative.
For all its flaws, this book is quite readable, with the writing style being tight and with nice flow. There’s no purple prose or philosophical rants to muck up this straightforward thriller, so if you’re interested in the movie, you’ll probably want to read the novel first.
Header image: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, published January 13th 2015 by Riverhead Books