The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Admittedly, I went into The Girl on the Train with very high hopes. Pegged as “the next Gone Girl,” I had expected this book to be a cleverly-crafted, beautifully succinct story filled with twists, turns and double-crosses. What I got was a story that started out with promise, but fizzled out somewhere near the end, where it appeared the author had set up too many loose ends to tie together.
Here’s the premise: Rachel, a relatively recent divorcee and alcoholic, takes the train to London from her home in the suburbs every morning and every evening. The train is slow, and often stops at a signal near the house where she used to live with her ex-husband. Over time, she sees the same couple in a neighboring house, a couple she nicknames Jess and Jason. She spends a lot of time making up stories about them — until, one day, the woman disappears.
This is engaging, right? An unreliable narrator, a little voyeurism, a woman whose past is slowly unveiled to the reader in snippets and bits, in a way that reflects Rachel’s own distracted and compromised state of mind. Paula Hawkins does a great job showing us the terror and shame that can come with hiding an addiction that can steal parts of your mind, your memory, your sense of self.
But the ending and resolution seemed as confused and contorted as Rachel herself. Yes, real life is messy, but I didn’t buy a lot of the motivations of characters as the story wound its way to a conclusion. The novel carefully studied emotional abuse and its effects on women, the societal pressures placed on women who hold different roles in life; I thought it characterized emotional abuse and addiction very well; and it avoided cliches and romanticizing views of long-term relationships — indeed, demolished them entirely.
However, too many loose ends and a few (in my opinion) rather unbelievable actions made this a book that probably suffers in comparison to Gone Girl. Still, if you find yourself with few hours — perhaps on a long train ride? — it’s definitely worth a read, if only to see what all of the fuss is about.