The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Riverhead Books, 2015, 323 pages)
I admit, I started reading this bestseller because I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. The basic plot begins with a woman (Rachel) noticing a couple (she nicknames them Jason and Jess), who she sees daily through her window on the train. She invents a bucolic narrative of their life in direct contrast to her own unfortunate current reality. All is not well, though, when the woman (Megan) mysteriously disappears and the woman’s husband (Scott) becomes a suspect in her disappearance.
As the book progressed I became disturbed, disgusted, and disappointed with it (not necessarily in that order). Most of the characters were either vile, pathetic, or otherwise annoying – and though there were plenty of exciting plot twists, particularly at the end, I was glad to finish this book – both because I wanted to find out what happened, and I also simply tired of reading it. I enjoyed the actual writing; author Paula Hawkins spins a very vivid story in which the characters come alive. I grew so very tired, however, of “protagonist” Rachel’s alcoholism and mourning for her failed marriage with so little growth. (As I tend to read fiction for entertainment, I realize that my not being overly entertained doesn’t mean the book isn’t good – but if you read more for entertainment than for the literary experience itself, you, too, may be ready for this book to be done.)
Other reviewers have noted themes related to female empowerment throughout this book. The book tends to deftly paint some of those issues without offering much in the way of their resolution. I felt grief for the characters, particularly Rachel and Megan, as I kept hoping they would do something redemptive.
All the above said, The Girl on the Train is still an incredibly engrossing novel. I appreciated it very much for its great writing and skillfully-told story from multiple moments and points of view – but if you prefer your reading to have unambiguous characters and a story with just a little conflict, save this one for a day on which you feel you can be more at peace with humanity’s inevitable shortcomings.