Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This was touted as the "new Gone Girl" when it came out a couple of years ago. It seemed to have the same kind of popularity as a thriller that hit the mainstream hard, twisty and yet able to appeal to many readers, not just the hardcore mystery lovers. I read Gone Girl a couple of years ago, and liked it well enough, without ever falling in love with it. So then I sat down to read A Girl on the Train, and the verdict is...yeah. It's very, very much like Gone Girl.

It's a mystery/thriller with unreliable narrators and enough twists and turns to satisfy most readers. That is to say, I didn't like it more than Gone Girl, but neither did I like it any less. It's a very competent thriller. The unstable narrative voices add a nice bit of complexity, and the characters are written well enough to hang this plot on.

It's not a complaint to say that there isn't really anything more to it than that - this is written to be a mainstream best seller, and a mainstream best seller it is. It does not transcend the genre, but it is a good example of it, and I can't imagine anyone who wants to read something like this being disappointed by what they find. (I heard that the movie wasn't that good, but that's neither here nor there.)

If you read this book while it was at its peak, unlike me, a plot synopsis is probably unnecessary, but here goes anyway: Rachel is an alcoholic, despondent after the breakdown of her marriage, fired from her job, who hides this from her roommate by riding the train into London and back every day. As she passes by the house she used to live, where her former husband and his new wife still live, she concocts a fairy tale for another couple a few houses down, giving them the imaginary life she always wanted.

She also at least once gets off at her old stop, in a drunken array of intentions, and gets back on a few hours later with a wound across her forehead and a large blank spot where her memory should be, but it's not the first time she's drunk to blackout and next-day loss of memory. That also ends up being the evening when the woman she's been creating a fantasy good life for disappears.  Rachel is sure there are things she saw that are relevant, but she can't remember them all.

Then a good portion of the book is her trying to do the right thing, but cocking it all up, partially through drink, partially through trying to hide her issues from the police and suspects alike. We get to follow along as she makes assumptions about what has happened and who has done what, and I, for one, winced at a number of them, even as they made perfect sense for that character in that moment.

Of course, it turns out she does know more than she realizes, even if it's not the things she thinks she knows. Did that sentence make any sense? We whirl around this small street, through sordid affairs and bleak pasts and worrisome futures, and at the end, there are twists upon twists and the tale rockets to a conclusion.

The Girl on the Train does what it says on the back of the box. It's a very competent thriller, an easy read, a book that would be excellent for summer reading when you're looking for something you can breeze through quickly. That it does not have any great insights deeper than that is not necessarily a problem, although it will likely not last as a book of great merit.

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