Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

A few weeks ago, I came across the synopsis for The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins in some magazine I was flipping through. It was a premise that I really could not say no to, so I immediately bought it from Amazon, especially since so many people were making comparisons between it and Gone Girl. However, now that I have read the novel, I am not sure those comparisons are warranted. 

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Rachel Watson is a divorced woman who is a somewhat functioning alcoholic whose life has essentially fallen apart because of her need for the bottle. Her husband had an affair that resulted in a pregnancy. He divorces Rachel, marries his mistress, and now the two (with their baby) live in the house that used to belong to Rachel.

From the window on her train, Rachel watches the world, including a couple who are frequently out on their balcony as her train passes by each day. She creates a make believe, almost fairy tale-like story for the couple, imagining their lives in a way hers never was. Then, the woman, Megan, goes missing and Rachel's missing memories from the night she disappeared might be the key to the puzzle. Unfortunately for Megan, as well as for Megan's doting husband, the reason Rachel cannot remember the events of that fateful night was because of one of her alcohol-induced blackouts.

I found The Girl on the Train to be too full of paranoia on Rachel's part and I was completely unable to feel any sympathy for her. Rachel is an alcoholic who is obsessed with her ex-husband and what her life used to be. She is compromised by her own weaknesses and forever caught in self-pity and lack of character. She only focuses on herself, going so far as to insert herself into the police investigation of Megan's disappearance and lying to the missing woman's husband in order to make herself feel more important. It is actually pretty pathetic.

The redeeming factor for the novel is the skillful writing of Paula Hawkins. Honestly, if she did not write so well, I would have stopped reading after the first 20 pages or so. Very few authors can move between three narrators as effectively as she did. There is Anna, the ridiculously happy new wife of Rachel's ex-husband; Megan, who does not see to quite fit into her world of pilates, coffees, and perfect wife-dom; and Rachel. While I wanted to punch Rachel in the face whenever it was her "turn" to serve as narrator, I felt like Hawkins did an excellent job capturing the personalities of Anna and Megan and making each narrator distinct.

With an unreliable narrator (Rachel, ugh) and a vanished wife, I understand the comparisons to Gone Girl; I just do not agree with them. That being said, I give the novel a 6 out of 10 for its unique structure and eloquent writing.

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