The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – Book Review

the-girl-on-the-trainThis was one of those mystery/thrillers where you go, hmm I think I can see where the story is going, but there are still plenty of pages left, so hopefully there’s some totally unexpected juicy twist in store… oh wait there isn’t. So then the remainder of the book is just waiting for the main character to connect all the dots and for the story to roll out, which is rather tedious. I don’t usually play Sherlock and try too hard to solve the crime or predict the plot of the books and movies – in most cases I prefer to sit back and go along with the story, and I rather like being surprised. Here though the red flags are so obvious I couldn’t help but guess the culprit long before the heroine does.

The story is told by multiple narrators, but our main hero and the titular girl on the train is Rachel, a young woman who well and truly hit the rock bottom after her husband dumped her for another woman. She’s unemployed with a raging drinking problem, and in order to fool her kind-hearted friend-slash-landlord she takes the same commuter train to London as if she still had her job. Every day, the train takes Rachel near her old house, now occupied by her ex-husband, his wife and their baby, and another house not too far away, with a young attractive couple Rachel becomes obsessed with – she even gives them imaginary names. They seem to have a perfect life together and she fantasises about their perfect amazing relationship that’s a complete opposite to her own failed marriage, until one day she sees something that totally shatters that image.

As a thriller, The Girl on the Train is for the most part a well-crafted, compulsive reading – I read it in a flash and even took it with me to work so I could finish it during lunch break. An unreliable narrator who suffers from blackouts is a fun device and the book puts it to good, suspenseful use. The problem is, there’s really not much else to the book apart from its central mystery – this is strictly a shallow, read-once-and-forget kind of novel. The writing is merely serviceable and the setting generic, without any sense of mood or atmosphere. Besides Rachel, the other two narrators are Anna, the woman Rachel’s husband left her for, and Megan, the half of the “perfect couple” who disappears in mysterious circumstances. While I never had a problem with unlikable protagonists, if you write unsympathetic characters you need to make them compelling in some way, but none of the characters here come off as distinct or interesting and their voices are pretty much interchangeable. I’m curious to see how the film adaptation with Emily Blunt turns out – this could be a rare case where a movie actually improves on the book.

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