The Girl on the Train
There’s a certain irresistible urge to invent details about the lives of the strangers we see. Sometimes it’s just a way to pass the time, but for Rachel Watson, it becomes an obsession that puts her in the middle of both a personal crisis and a crime investigation. Rachel is Hawkins’ “girl on the train,” who, during her commutes to London and back, notices Scott and Megan Hipwell, an attractive couple she believes is gloriously happy. Rachel gives them imaginary names and assigns them glamorous and exciting lives, filling a void in her own life. When Megan goes missing, Rachel is sure she can help, if she can only dig through her alcohol-clouded memories of the night Megan disappeared.
I enjoyed this psychological thriller, which reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window” and introduces the idea that a stranger may know more about a crime than the people involved. The story is narrated by three characters, Rachel, Megan and Anna Watson, new wife to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. The story’s momentum is based on details that are withheld by each narrator, much like a “getting-to-know-you” phase in real relationships. It isn’t until the finish when the reader can look back and realize that, yes, this one was a jerk all along, or that one was suffering much more than it showed, this one actually showed some good qualities and that one did a good thing. A second read shows details, references and foreshadowing that may go unnoticed the first time around.
Readers have criticized this withholding of details, saying it’s a contrived method to keep the story going, but I think it is very similar to the beginnings of real relationships. No one spills it all in the beginning. The big reveals often come much later.
Hawkins’ female characters, although not overly developed, represent the challenges that young women face: careers, marriage and children. On the surface, these are universal choices, but for many, individual back stories and loss make it impossible to move forward. Rachel is so desperate for human contact she thrusts herself into a crisis. Megan is haunted by her own demons and behaves recklessly. And Anna has the dream life, but her possessive and territorial behavior may wreck what she has.
The male characters in the story are as much a puzzle, muddled with both good and bad parts to them, causing the reader to question all of their motives. Added to the mix is a mysterious man with the ginger hair and blue eyes, someone Rachel only has a dim memory of meeting.
As new facts emerge, the reader gets a clearer view of who’s who and who did what, which, at this point, moves the story to its final and tense confrontation and a satisfying finish.
I disagree with other criticisms that the book’s finish was predictable. I don’t like to look too far ahead when I’m reading a book like this because I think it takes away from its enjoyment, which is the whole point, isn’t it?
The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful, fast and entertaining read, with deeper questions about relationships and human contact.
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!