I could not wait to get my hands on The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. This was the book that everyone in the UK was talking about and most of my friends seemed to have loved it. To me this had ‘summer read’ written all over it (in a way The Goldfinch did not), plus there was buzz about a potential movie with Emily Blunt playing the main character Rachel (too pretty) and the story potentially being relocated from the London suburbs to New York (outrageous!). These kind of projects both fascinate and infuriate me. I’m a British woman living in America and it seems to me that most people can understand that an English city functions in largely the same way as cities elsewhere in the world. Why uproot the story? Would people not understand what a suburb is, if it isn’t outside New York? Yes, I guess you may argue that I still haven’t forgiven John Cusack for High Fidelity. Still, I digress.
This is one of those novels where you settle down on your couch and suddenly it’s an hour later. The chapters are short and punchy and you quickly find yourself engaged in the narrative. The main female protagonists, Rachel, her husband’s new wife Anna and our victim Megan, lead us through the story, chapter by chapter. As I discussed in my review of Jessica Knoll’s novel, The Luckiest Girl Alive, none of these characters are particularly likeable, but after years of happy endings and lovely people, this seems to be what today’s reader wants.
The Girl on the Train focuses primarily on Rachel, a washed out thirty something who has lost her way in life and now engages in creating fantasies based around the houses she passes, twice daily, as she commutes to her imaginary job in London. Once married and gainfully employed, Rachel now maintains the facade of everyday life in order to placate a flatmate who wants to ‘help’. In her loneliness she picks out a couple whose back garden faces the railway tracks and names them Jess and Jason. In Rachel’s mind, this is the perfect couple, happy and fulfilled in every regard, that is until the day her fantasy is broken. What ensues is an enormously engaging murder mystery as the story and, indeed, Rachel’s own character unravel.
In my mind, there is a fatal flaw to this novel and that lies with the number of characters. From very early on in this book there are a finite number of characters meaning that it very quickly becomes apparent that we must therefore know our killer reasonably well. This I found disappointing. I knew very quickly who had done it (simply ask yourself who you know the least about…), but there was still great pleasure to be taken in understanding why.
Hawkins tells a great story and I would imagine that her writing will only get better with time. When her next book comes out, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. An enjoyable and quick read.