Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

After hearing so much about this book, I asked for it for Christmas, and it was the first new book I read this year. I read it a bit each morning while eating breakfast. When I begin reading books this way, I usually reach a point where I take them to bed with me and finish the last half or so in one sitting.

That was not the case with this book. Although I enjoyed it, I felt detached from the characters and was hoping for more gruesome or creepy twists and characters. Now don’t get me wrong. It was a good book. I think the curse of it was that I had heard so much praise about the book that my expectations were way too high. If I had heard nothing about the book beforehand, I probably would have been much more impressed. Sorry for the paradox.

The novel primarily follows a woman named Rachel. Without giving away too many details, Rachel is an unreliable narrator because she drinks too much. There are things she can’t remember, and as the reader I never felt sure I could trust her completely. Rachel takes a train each day and watches people and houses pass by, taking particular interest in the neighborhood where she used to live with her ex-husband. When a disappearance/murder takes place in the neighborhood, Rachel feel compelled to help, contacting the police with her observations and even interacting with the suspects.

The novel is told primarily through Rachel’s first person (very limited, especially with blackouts caused by drinking) point of view, though a few other women step in from time to time to narrate a section or two. The book is 322 pages, so it wasn’t excessively long, but I felt that parts at the beginning dragged just a bit. I went along with it, assuming the author was building up to something important about Rachel. In my mind, I had all kinds of theories, and each of them was creepier and more disturbing than what actually happened.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a good book, and I have tastes that tend to run darker than average, so for me, the suspense in my mind was scarier than reality. I would still recommend it to readers wanting a thriller that’s sort of like a Hitchcock film with a female perspective. Themes of marriage, divorce, children and childlessness, and happiness in work/home life balance kept emerging. In that sense, the three main female characters started to blend together for me just a bit, and I’m not sure how a male reader would receive the novel.

This was Hawkins’ debut novel, so I look forward to seeing what else she has in store for us. I hope she goes even creepier next time!

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