& Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover.

The Book Itself: A blurred landscape and doubled letters make it seem like you’re viewing the title from a fast moving train. Simplistic and very demonstrative of the plot, but not necessarily eye-catching.

My Review: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

This just hit the bestseller list at my store. I’ve sold about five copies a day at the register, and I’ve read the enthusiastic reviews in magazines like People and Entertainment Weekly (a sure indication that dozens of people will be clamoring for it the next week). So I took advantage of my store’s hardcover borrowing program and read it to see what the fuss was about.

In a way, I understand why it’s selling so wildly. But I think it’s due more to the reviews in entertainment magazines, rather than the writing and story itself. Unfortunately, I’ve read better mysteries, which is saying something, because I don’t read a lot in the mystery genre.

First of all: the character problem. Rachel is made to seem completely pathetic. She’s an alcoholic, a peeping tom, and an overall mess.  And she doesn’t really move past any of that. She doesn’t have a lot of agency or movement. Despite being the main character of this book, she only does a handful of things:
1.) Rides the train from her apartment to London. She sometimes stops in Whitney, where the couple she spies on lives. Also, she (COINCIDENCE) used to live there.
2.) Worries about drinking or staying sober.
3.) Worries about “Jess” and “Jason.”
4.) Worries about her ex-husband, who still lives in their old house with his mistress, now wife.

The falling action is too quick to warrant any real character growth. You still get the impression that Rachel will have a hard time finding employment and staying sober. Plus, she has a whole new set of issues to contend with after the dramatic finale (which I am of course, not going to outline for you here).

I found her to be whiny and unlikable. Which I do feel bad about, because I know there are people who are Rachel: addicts, alcoholics, lonely, broken people. So I feel bad about not liking a book narrated from that perspective. There would be no story without her: she’s nosy and notices things about “Jess” before events spiral out of control. This helps other people’s investigations later in the novel. But my final diagnosis on our Rachel here is: realistic, but unlikable.

The plot is passable. It ratchets up at the end, as the end of mysteries tend to do. I did race through the last 70 pages or so to figure out whodunnit and why. But like I said, I’m spoiled on plot because of Tana French (my review of her latest awesome mystery here). This is shelved in the fiction section (and not the mystery section) for a reason I suppose. But the mystery aspect is so central, it feels as if more time and detail should have been put into it.

It’s “mystery-lite” as it were. I think it had great commercial appeal, and articles in People and Entertainment Weekly sold most of the copies. Won’t be the best thing I’ll read all year.

My Grade: C


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