Paula Hawkins is not a name you will have seen before on bookshelves but with her first novel, The Girl on the Train, she has already found her book on millions – MILLIONS – of bookshelves around the world. And rightly so because The Girl on the Train is a brilliant, gripping psychological thriller that grabs you and simply doesn’t let go.
Every day Rachel commutes to London. Every day she takes the same seat on the train and she looks out the same window. And every day the train slows down at the same signal and she looks out into the same back gardens and observes the same people – or specifically one couple, Megan and Scott. A beautiful couple leading an idyllic life of love and respect.
Only nothing is as it seems. For Rachel’s fascinations are not entirely innocent.
For living only a few doors down from the perfect couple is Tom. Rachel’s ex-husband. Who is now living, in the house he shared with Rachel, with his new wife, Anna. Anna – the woman he had an affair with whilst he was still married to Rachel.
Do we sympathise with Rachel? Isn’t this all a bit psycho-y? Shouldn’t Rachel move on before she starts thinking about boiling rabbits on stoves?
But then, one morning, Rachel’s nosiness means she suddenly witnesses something she should never have seen – and only hours later Megan is missing. Vanished.
And suddenly the dangerously unstable Rachel could hold the key to solving the mystery.
I don’t think I’ve read a main character as fascinating, and as complex and flawed as Rachel in a long time. A central female character is always going to get a tick from me and if you make her an anti-hero great but wow, Rachel is something else.
She’s desperately damaged. Alcohol addictions and compulsive liars are tricky to write but Paula Hawkins has succeeded in layering Rachel’s issues with complexity – is it the drink causing the issues, or are the issues driving her to drink?
For me, the great success of this story is in weaving Rachel’s problems so intricately into the plot that her drinking, and more specifically the blackouts that follow, becomes a key plot device. Too much has occurred in these drinking binges. Rachel’s memory is broken with these blank spots – and she has got to remember.
But this book isn’t all about Rachel. The story is narrated by the three principal female characters, their sub-conscious first person narratives alternating diary-style throughout the book. But what I love is that you’d never have any of them as friends in a million years. Selfish, self-absorbed, self-involved….. All of them should be kept at arm’s distance. But as the story progress, Paula peels back their layers and as much as Rachel is going to have to find her strength, Megan and Anna are going to have to face their vulnerabilities.
It’s so difficult to tell you how much I enjoyed this book and why without spoiling the very intricate plot. But there’s so much that’s prescient and current about the themes explored in this book from maternal responsibilities and division of child-raising duties, to gendered perceptions of acceptable behaviour in men and women, and male violence.
The writing is so impressive in its scope and skill. Brilliant, difficult characters woven into such a tight, gripping plot that has such a powerful narrative drive. Writers strive to create a book that is ‘unputdownable’ and this book achieves that. And that this has been achieved by a debut novelist is staggering.
Inevitably this story is being made into a film. I tell you know, it won’t be as good as the book. A film can’t possibly include all of the deep complexities of this book. (I’m also not getting Emily Blunt as Rachel who is routinely described as fat in the book but, hey that’s Hollywood for you). So I urge you, read the book before you let the film colour your opinion. Paula Hawkins is a profoundly brilliant talent. I can’t wait to read more of her work.