BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This psychological thriller makes for a lazy compulsive read. There is nothing deep here – no new vocabulary gleaned, and no new insights into lonely, obsessive female behaviour gained. But it’s a good enough weekend read, if a bit depressing, and if you have nothing better. I was enticed by publicity hype, not the least of which were trailers for the film based on the book, starring Emily Blunt as Rachel, and co-starring Rebecca Ferguson and Justin Theroux.

The book is well structured, with a neat device for maintaining the pace and keeping the reader in suspense: timescales are skilfully juggled as the three main female protagonists share the narrative. Different perspectives and emotional states emerge, piquing one’s curiosity about the next stage of the drama. Rachel’s alcoholic amnesia is the primary source of the mystery: after her heavy bouts of drinking she forgets what she has said and done. At least that is what she is led to believe. People, events and places become confused in her mind, enabling the plot to thicken.

The characters, though not entirely realistic, are clearly delineated, each with issues, quirks – and an agenda – of their own. They don’t so much develop during the plot as deteriorate. The principal character, Rachel, the “Girl” who takes the same commuter train daily, becomes tedious with her post-divorce self-pity and uncontrollable drinking, and her interference in the lives of the people she sees from the train. She constantly makes bad decisions, seems to have no willpower, nor any idea of boundaries. In fact her behavior is implausible, unless there really are people out there who take themselves from the train carriage directly into the lives of the people they see.

There’s a great deal of sexual perversion, or uncommon appetite; the book becomes an essay in infidelity. The culprit is eventually discerned, in spite of the author’s inventive red herrings to divert the reader’s suspicions elsewhere. Once arrived at, he is reasonably plausible. But I found the author “painted into a corner” when it came to the final confrontation: “What am I going to do with you now, Rach?” seemed more a case of what was the author going to do with her now?

The final outcome – everyone moving as far away from the scene of the drama as possible, should have taken place long before. But then there wouldn’t have been story.

Otherwise, not too bad for a debut thriller by Zimbabwean-born journalist-author Paula Hawkins.

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