Writing this review is a great distraction from the extremely loud conversation happening outside my apartment window. “She loves you. She does not love him. She told me that she is exhausted and that she is tired and that she needs help and I’ve been….”
Ah love… so passionate… so fiery so… LOUD.
And that should probably be the tagline for The Girl on The Train, written by Paula Hawkins.
Rachel, the narrator of the novel, loves the loud sounds of the trains. She loves hearing everything about them. When she loses her husband, her job and her friends, the only thing that stays constant in her life are the trains. So everyday, to hide her unemployment from her flatmate, she gets up and pretends to commute into work. And every day she passes her old street, her old house and her old love. Sipping her G & T’s, she watches the street she once loved and makes up stories for about the new neighbours. But a single glimpse of an unforgettable scene starts a chain of events that has her questioning the happy life she still mourns.
Rachel has a lot in common with the trains she so dearly loves. After all, she is a train wreck. *ba dum ching*
“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”
Anyways, the people of this book are just… they’re just… awful. Every single character is a terrible person or incredibly flawed or just plain unlikeable. I know that it is in very vogue to make characters gritty but there has to be some redeemable qualities to hang onto. I found it incredibly hard to relate to anyone in the novel and so a part of me didn’t really connect with the story. I felt like I was looking in at a different type of living but in the end, no deep connection was formed to any individual.
A lot of people will look at Rachel as a character and think that she is deep. However, my greatest gripe with this book comes down to this very issue of character development. The best books that I have ever read have laid a solid foundation of who the narrator is. The tension and climaxes of the book are not in cheap jump-scares or surprise twists and turns but in seeing how this person you understand reacts to environments that are out of their control. Think of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. I felt that I knew what he was capable of very quickly into the book and yet, the novel remains one of the most intense reads of my life.
“Good God!” he cried, “can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open…that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, blood…with the axe…Good God, can it be?” – Raskolnikov
Sherlock Holmes, Gandalf, Patrick Bateman, Jane Eyre…. the list could go on. All of these famous characters were amazing because they felt like real people. Within pages, you felt as if you could reach out and touch them. You felt as if you knew them. But who is Rachel? It took me until the last page to work that out and that means that throughout the beginning, through the plot and the climax, instead of enjoying the journey of the novel, I was mostly trying to figure out if I was missing a part of the story. Was this how she would react in this situation? Was this out of character? Was this surprising to her? There was information simply missing from the story and there is no suspense in confusion. Suspense comes from subtle clues and from suspicions founded on half obscured facts. In this novel, we had nothing to speculate on.
One of my favourite experiences in a novel is to get to the end and to realise that the character was a different person all along. This book tried to achieve that but it didn’t quite hit the mark. Instead of hints and details being left throughout the book, the author simply waited until exposition was needed and then dropped the information. There was no ‘ah ha’ moment for me, because they was no previous information to reflect on. I felt like every bit of information I needed to ‘solve’ the case was told when the case was being solved. So instead of enjoying the journey of discovery with Rachel, I felt as if I was instead reading her journal with days at a time missing from the sequence.
However, Hawkins should be commended for her ability to create a page turner. This was an okay book in the end, despite my issues with the character development and the plot. I thought the idea original and there were some some decent cliffhangers to push me through the more frustrating parts of the novel.
I would highly recommend this book for travel. This is the kind of book you want on a trip. Something that wont distract you from the fun of your adventure but engage you when you do sit down to decompress. If the book was much longer, I would have struggled but it finished on a high note which left me with a positive impression of it generally.