We have all done it haven’t we? Or should that be, we all do this don’t we? We have all been sat on a bus, the train, been in the car (preferably not driving) or just been nosey through the net curtains and seen certain faces again and again and made up lives for those people we regularly see but don’t dare to speak to. This has been the case with Rachel as she makes her way to and from London, creating the perfect life, projecting her own dreams, on one couple who she names “Jason and Jess” whose house she passes twice a day. However one day on her way into London Rachel sees something that isn’t right, “Jess” is kissing a man who definitely isn’t “Jason” ut on their decking. Things take a twist a few weeks later when it turns out that “Jess” is actually a girl called Megan who has gone missing, with the knowledge of what she has seen has Rachel got the key to the mystery?
This could be a simple and thrilling, erm, thriller in itself until we see Rachel realise that the night Megan went missing was also a night when Rachel got off the train at the nearby station, very drunk, to go and watch the house she used to live in with her ex husband, who now lives there with his new wife Anna and their child. Yet, in one of her more and more frequent drunken states, Rachel blacked out and can’t remember what happened. Yet from the state she wakes up in and with the fuzzy feeling of dread it would appear that whatever it was it was very, very bad – what could this mean?
The Girl on the Train is one of the best thrillers I have read in quite some time and not just because of the intriguing premise. Hawkins does some very clever, tricky and twisty things with this novel that make it one of those brilliant mysteries that work on many levels. Firstly of course there is the above mentioned plot, a mystery which quite simply begs for the reader to follow Rachel as she tries to solve or absolve herself from any involvement with what has or hasn’t happened.
Secondly is the unexpected way in which the novel is written. I imagined that the whole novel would be Rachel trying to find out just what the blinking heck has happened. Wrong! Initially we get the story from Rachel ‘in the present’ but soon we get the narratives both of Megan (before and leading up to her disappearance) and Anna, who Rachel seems to have just as much of an obsession with as she did “Jason and Jess”, giving us a whole new light on Rachel. All this creates an additionally compellingly complex aspect to the novel, without being hard work or off putting, along with three intricate and multifaceted female narrators.
I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable; I am off putting in some way. It’s not that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written over all over me, they can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.
One night last week, when I left my room to get myself a glass of water, I overheard Cathy talking to Damien, her boyfriend, in the living room. I stood in the hallway and listened. ‘She’s lonely,’ Cathy was saying, ‘I really worry about her. It doesn’t help, her being alone all the time.’ Then she said, ‘Isn’t there someone from work, maybe, or the rugby club?’ and Damien said, ‘For Rachel? Not being funny, Cath, but I’m not sure I know anyone that desperate.’
Rachel is someone you both feel rather sorry for, when she is vulnerable and heartbroken/just plain broken, yet feel really creeped out by when she starts hitting the bottle and hanging around her old street either to watch her old house or try and ingratiate herself within Megan’s. On the one hand you want to sit with her and a bottle (or six) and just let her vent, then you want to give her a bit of a shake and tell her to get a grip of herself, then feel you would avoid her in the street at all costs and cross to the other side, before promptly feeling bad and sympathising again. This is wonderfully depicted in Rachel’s relationship with Cathy, an acquaintance of sorts who kindly let her stay and is really quite regretting it now. As she is clearly down the road to alcoholism you sympathise whilst also being fully aware that she us completely unreliable and possibly an obsessive stalker trying to fill the sad and cold emptiness in her life in any way she can. At the same time you just know all she wants is to be happy. This adds an emotive and often slightly uncomfortably realistic side to life that we have all had elements of in our lives, though hopefully we didn’t go to quite the same lengths.
Megan and Anna’s narratives may not appear as often but that doesn’t make them any less vivid, human or naturally flawed. Anna is a woman who came into Rachel’s ex husband’s life all confidence and stole him from her, now with a new baby and Rachel drunkenly turning up out of the blue she is becoming a paranoid bag of nerves, is this karma for what she has done? Megan may also seem perfect and have the most handsome of men in her life, she is also a sex addict who cannot stop herself from having affairs and getting herself into trouble. As the novel moves on each of the women lets more and more of the facade they have given their lives slip a little more creating a fascinating, brooding and ominous tension that makes you (cliché alert, but true) turn the pages faster and faster to the final dénouement. I won’t say too much more as I want you to go out and grab this book and spend some riveting time with these three characters.
The Girl on the Train is one of those thrillers I love because it can be read in a number of ways. You can read it as a bloody good thriller. You can read it as a fascinating insight into the psyches or three women and how they are trying to survive in the situations they find themselves. You can read it as a look at how society sees, and often pigeon-holes women, into certain categories based simply on the expectation of women morally, how they look on the surface or their lifestyle choices and how that affects them and what the realities are. Or you can read it as all three. Whatever you do read it!
Oh and don’t pay attention to the comparisons to other novels in the genre (novels which I also loved I will hasten to add) as I really think The Girl on the Train should be read for its own merits as it can certainly stand up for itself. Who else has read it and, without spoilers, what did you think of it?