The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
A Book Review by Nazia Hashmi
If you liked the book Gone Girl you will love the latest in the now trendy line of psychological thrillers. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins will arrest you from the first page with its fast-paced and ingenious story-telling. It will thrust you into a world of false perceptions and striking characters, struggling to find their footing against their inner demons and time.
The unlikely protagonist, Rachel Watson, rides the train every day to and from London and, at a certain junction, catches glimpses of the perfect life that ‘Jason’ and ‘Jess’, lead in house number 23; the type of life she used to lead, a few doors down the road, at house number 5, where her ex-husband now lives with his new family.
“I don’t know their names either, so I had to name them myself. Jason, because he’s handsome in a British film star kind of way, not a Depp or a Pitt, but a Firth, or a Jason Isaacs. And Jess just goes with Jason, and it goes with her. It fits her, pretty and carefree as she is. They’re a match, they’re a set. They’re happy. I can tell. They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and me five years ago. They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.”
And then she sees something shocking from the train at house number 23. Something that she shares with the police when she finds out later that ‘Jess’ or Megan Hipwell is missing. For Rachel, there is no turning back now.
The author, Paul Hawkins, worked for fifteen years as a journalist before turning her attention to writing fiction. This is her debut psychological thriller, and what a debut it is. The book has sold over a million copies, is the number one best seller on both sides of the Atlantic, with film rights already bought by Steven Spielberg’s studio, DreamWorks.
So what catapulted this book to such fame?
“I have a fascination with the nasty things people do to each other and the way relationships go wrong, and how there can be this very dark underbelly to seemingly normal, mundane domestic life,’” says Hawkins (Event Magazine, 18th April 2015).
This is the underlying thread of the book. Apart from the sinister plot, thick with intrigue, there is gripping drama, bold characters and psychological twists that keep you guessing and turning the pages. What’s more, Paula Hawkins is an artful story teller. She uses clever timescales and skilfully shifts the narratives between the three female characters of the book.
Hawkins chose Rachel as the main narrator of the book; a pitiable, often repulsive alcoholic trapped in a predictable cycle of drinking, reckless behaviour and self-loathing, who keeps drunk dialling or drunk emailing (“Technology has not been friendly to drunks”) Tom, her ex-husband. Prone to blackouts, her reality is blurred. She is not a reliable narrator and takes the reader along for the ride as she struggles to differentiate between memory and imagination.
“Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in. The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I lift the can to my mouth again, but there’s not a drop left.”
The story is told by two other female narrators. The vindictive Anna (Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife) gloats in her victory over Rachel and would do anything to keep her picture perfect world intact. Megan (‘Jess’) whom Rachel idolizes in the beginning, is the third female narrator. Without wanting to give away too much, let’s just say, the more Rachel finds out about the glossy Megan, the more she begins to dislike her.
The skill with which Hawkins paints his characters is admirable and speaks volumes about how in-tune the author is with the (dark) nature of human psyche and fallibility. The other main characters – Tom (Rachel’s ex-husband), and Scott (‘Jason’- Megan’s husband) – are equally interesting in their depth and dimension. Tom is a nice guy with a nurturing side who is struggling to maintain the peace between his family and ever intrusive ex-wife. Scott is a handsome, charming fellow that dotes on Megan. But there is something that lurks beneath the surface of each of the characters. And, as the author reveals in her book, reality is but an illusion, often a victim of the psychological warfare that we ourselves wage in our minds.
If you are looking for a book to read at the beach or on the plane, or as an evening read, read this book! If you are in need of a book with great psychoanalysis potential for your book club, read this book! Hell, even if you have three screaming kids and you don’t have time to read a book, read this book! It is a gripping thriller that will transport you into nail-biting drama and surprises you never saw coming.
And it is a book that will haunt you, long after you finish it, for all the right reasons.