Sometimes a negative review entices me to read a book. To be fair though, in the case of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, there were also a fair amount of positive reviews that made me want to read it. What I didn’t expect was that I would like it so much. I basically gobbled it down in a couple of sittings. For sure, the writing is very simple—present tense + short sentences + split narrative, short chapters, three narrators. Not exactly sophisticated writing. And, yes, the three women who tell this story have only one voice. Without chapter headings indicating when it’s Rachel’s, Megan’s or Anne’s turn to tell the story, we would hardly be able to guess. Their lives are different, some of their dysfunctions are different, but the tone and vocabulary is pretty much the same. And all three of them are not exactly role models.
There’s Rachel, the girl on the train. Every day she commutes to London, guzzling cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic, although she’s been unemployed for some time. The train always stops at the same place and she gets a good view of one of the houses. The young good-looking couple living there fascinates her. They remind her of herself and her ex-husband Tom with whom she used to live only a few houses farther down. While her obsessive interest in the couple is strange, it is far stranger that she’s willing to enter her fantasy world when she thinks she sees something shocking. I’m not going to write more as it’s a book that’s easily spoilt.
Why did I love it, you wonder? There are books that do nothing more than exploit an idea or an image. In this case: looking at people from a train and imagining their lives. I liked this idea a great deal. I would never spy on people with binoculars – a habit I find positively disgusting-, but I’m fascinated by the tiny glimpses of other people’s lives we can catch when we are on a train. I often wonder what kind of life they have, those people, frozen in a single moment of their lives, while I rush by. I could relate to Rachel’s fascination and understood how someone as dysfunctional and lonely would get caught up in her fantasies.
I also loved the novel because I found it very gripping. And very realistic. I’ve had the misfortune of meeting a Megan and an Anna. Also women like Rachel, only without her alcohol problems. One of the characters in particular reminded me of a girl I used to work with for a while. The moment a guy showed interest in someone else, had a girl friend or a wife, she had to fling herself at him.
The Girl on the Train is a page-turner that depicts certain aspects of our society like isolation, commuting, envy, and narcissism in a realistic way. It’s a bit like Gone Girl’s little sister, although the writing isn’t nearly as good. Still, if you’re in the mood to gobble down a book and share my fascination with the small glimpses of other people’s lives you can catch while rushing by on a train – get it. It’s flawed but entertaining. Just one word of warning – the end is a bit disappointing.
After finishing it I picked up Renée Knights Disclaimer and was amused to see that the sticker on the book doesn’t say “The new Gone Girl” but “If You Liked The Girl on the Train“. I suspect in a few months it will say “The new Disclaimer“. I’m eager to find out which I will like better.
37 thoughts on “Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train (2015)”
I read this book and felt the same way you did. I read it in like a day and loved it, but after some time I realised there were some things that disappointed me. Like the ending for example, it was a major let down, and what you said about the voices of the characters. Still, there was something about it that kept me reading, and made me want to read thrillers again!:)
Glad to hear you felt the same. The ending was a disappointment. I didn’t mind the similarity of the voices that much. It would have been better if she could have made the sound different but it didn’t take away from the plot. the ending did though. Still, I find she’s an author to follow. I also appreciated that it didn’t have a frantic pacing. Rache wasn’t lkable at first but then I felt for her.
Totally agree with you. I did find it difficult to like Rachel, she kind of irritated me due to her constant whining, but by the end of the book I ended up liking her.
She definitely grows on you.
I bought this on a kindle special.
I’ve read Gone Girl (annoyed me) and Disclaimer (also annoyed me) so I’ll be interested to see how I feel about this one.
WordPress must still be buggy as I didn’t get this post either.
I’m almost finished with Disclaimer and like it far less than this one. Gone Girl is better written but this one felt less artificial – apart from the ending. I’m sînterested to find out how you’ll like this.
Interesting book and nice review, Caroline. It is always fascinating to imagine how people’s lives are after getting a glimpse of a moment while travelling by train. Interesting to know that this book uses that idea to tell its story. The title of this book rings a bell and makes me feel that I have heard of it before, but I can’t remember where and when. Hope you enjoy reading ‘Disclaimer’. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. I haven’t read ‘Gone Girl’, but saw the movie recently. I liked the first half, but the second half became more and more unconvincing as it progressed. I didn’t understand the logic behind some of the decisions that the main characters made. I don’t think I will be reading the book.
Thanks, Vishy. I really enjoyed the premise of the book. It’s been very popular, maybe you saw another review of it. The book Gone Girl is the same. The beginning is good but then it gets more and more unbelievable. This one had a bit of a disappointing ending but it felt slightly more believable.
I have been curious about this one since it came out, but I still haven’t got around to it. I haven’t read Gone Girl yet either, though!
I think Gone Girl is better written but this one was entertaining. If you don’t nee likable characters that is. But ou won’t get them in Gone Girl either.
I listen to a radio version of this not really my normal reading but abridged made a good couple of hours of radio
Ah yes, I can see how this would be good on the radio.
If you can work out how get bbc iplayer to work with you should be on there still
Thank you, Stu, I found it. And it works. 🙂
I read The Girl on the Train a few months ago and had a very similar reaction. I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though I wasn’t a fan of some of the narrative choices.
The novel I’m reading now, The Husband’s Secret (Australian author), also has three alternating POVs: Rachel, Tess, Cecilia. This structure seems to be growing in popularity, though I haven’t warmed up to it. It’s too easy for the narrators to be indistinguishable.
In the hands of a master story teller, splitting the narrative like this, could be amazing. Unfortunately, many who choose this approach aren’t skilfull.
I was tempted by The Husband’s Secret as well. Do you like it better?
I’ve read about half of The Husband’s Secret and will definitely finish it. The narrative has kept me turning the pages in much the same was as The Girl on the Train did. The three POV characters are distinct in their habits, but not as distinct in their voices. (On one hand I understand that the three characters are of similar socio-economic class with similar backgrounds, which may naturally make their voices similar.) I think this is a very difficult proposition for a writer. The best I’ve read is The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara Kingsolver wrote the entire story — beginning to end — from each POV character!
Thanks for letting me know. I’ve been meaning to read the Poisonwood Bible for ages. I think I should.
I’ll keep The Husband’s Secret in mind should I be in need of an entertaining page-turner. I forewarned about the voices.
It’s a difficult thing to do, rendered different voices but, for me, it’s important.
I read this a while ago and thought it was a real page-turner at first, but once the plot became a bit too obvious I lost interest. The first 2/3 was quite gripping and I liked the unreliable narrator aspect and the slow reveal of Rachel’s character. I just wish the end wasn’t so predictable. It’s entertaining enough but there needed to be a better plot twist. It felt to me as though it’s one of those books written with the movie adaptation in mind – not too much work to do in order to turn it into a screenplay, and the ‘scenes’ are very filmic.
I couldn’t agree more. I was so disappointed in the ending. I saw it comeing but until the last chapters I hoped it would be something else.
It was really the premise that made this one stand out. The writing in Gone Girl is far better, even though I found it problematic.
I thought the book was very entertaining, with well-drawn characters, but the end was a letdown, I agree. Haven’t heard of Disclaimer, but will have to take a look.
I’m glad to hear you felt the same. Disclaimer starts strongly but after a while – I?m nearing the end – it’s annyoing. Maybe it has a good ending. What I miss though is a sence of place. I love Nicci French because of the atmopshere and the settings. Even when it’s not only London, but Disclaimer is set in London but it coule just as well be the moon. I’ll mention that in my review.
Rachel’s story as you describe it sounds so very interesting. It sounds poignant, which I am drawn to in fiction.
The fact that all three protagonists seem to speak with the same voice might get the way for me. Do you think that this was intentional or just a weakness in the writing?
I’m afarid it was weakness. She tried to make them appear different but they still sounded alike. Rachel’s story is interesting.
I love catching glimpses of people’s lives from a train too. However I can’t say I have fancied reading this one at all. Glad you enjoyed it, great review.
Thanks, Ali. The premise really appealed to me and carried me through the book. I thought it was suspenseful but there are better crime stories out there.
I completely agree with your review. I almost didn’t read it because of the hype around it but decided to download a Kindle version of it simply because of the idea, like you mentioned, immersing myself in this couple on the porch. I love riding through suburbs on trains and looking back yards though there are more barriers than there once were. I enjoyed the romp with these three characters and had not fully figured it out until the very end. It was fun. I didn’t care the writing was mediocre. I just had fun with it.
I’m glad to hear you think so too. I could really see myself making up stories around people I just see for a second. Maybe not so much if I drove by every day, but who knows. I had fun too. I thought she could have done a better job at making the voices more distinct but it’s not meant to be the next Pulitzer, so I didn’t mind. In any case, if she writes another one, I might pick it up.
Why did I not receive notice about this post – not the first time I am missing one of your excellent reviews…
I was not mightily impressed with this one – the alcoholism bit was the part I enjoyed most, it felt quite well described, but yes, there was a similarity of voices, the ending was disappointing, and yet it did what it said on the tin – entertain you. I haven’t read Disclaimer yet, but thought Gone Girl was quite cleverly done – and some rather good writing, while this one didn’t particularly stick in my mind.
Thanks, marina Sofia. I don’t know, Guy didn’t get this one and the one before either. Maybe it depends how you pulish them – manually or scheduled?
Yes, the alcoholism was well done. Gone Girl is better written but it annoyed me more than this for some reason. I think I’ll remeber The Girl on the Train because of the premise.
I’ve finished Disclaimer. Hopefully I’ll review it tomorrow. let’s just say for now – out of the three I liked it the least. By far.
I’m glad you enjoyed this book. I did too. Very much. Yes it had flaws, but it was a fun read. And Rachel was, too me, a likable trainwreck. This one grabbed me more than Gone Girl.
Nice tto hear you liked it as well. I agree, you forget about the flaws because it’s so entertaining. Gone Girl annoyed me. I liked this one far better.
After a while I really like Rachel but not the other two women.
Not every book needs subtle and beautiful writing, and indeed strongly plot driven books can suffer if too “well written” as the writing becomes a distraction from the plot. There can be a lot sometimes to say for transparent text.
Still, the same narrative voice is a problem when you have three characters, and a weak ending is a huge problem for a plot driven novel. Nice review Caroline but not one for me.
No, I didn’t think this would be for you.
I agree with what you say but the similarity of the voices was grating and – the ending was weak. Yeah well. Hopefully they don’t push her to produce the next one too quickly and she might write a far better book next.
Caroline, I have to y was disagree with you on this one. The three women speaking in the same self-pitying, hysterical voice became a little too much. And since the mystery was paper-thin it became a chore to finish this. I’ll think twice before picking up a hyped book again.
I agree on the hyped books but I’ve read worse before I picked this up and worse after. The voices were a problem, I agree. I guess it was the overall idea I liked.