Hawkins, Paula: The Girl on the Train (2015)

With all the hype surrounding this book and a film adaptation of it coming out later in 2016, I’ve been meaning to pick up this novel for a long time. It was marketed as ‘the new Gone Girl’, and I expected it to be one of those books that I’d recommend to all my of friends, bugging them with it until they’d eventually see no other choice but to either read the novel or to gag me to keep me from talking about it.

So far I haven’t recommended The Girl on the Train to anyone.

It baffles me and I’m still trying to figure out why that is. It’s a good novel. It’s well written and it kept me interested from beginning to end. I powered through it in a matter of days and had a hard time putting it down at times. It’s just…I’m really not sure what it is, I can’t really put my finger on why I did not like this novel as much as I thought I would.

There were some aspects of it that I really enjoyed. For one, Rachel is an incredibly interesting unreliable narrator, because she is aware of her own unreliability and the fact that she can’t even trust her own judgement or her memories. She is an alcoholic and very much aware of the fact that a) most of the time she can’t be sure that what she remembers is actually what happened and b) it is unlikely that anyone would believe her even if what she remembers was correct and she’d be telling the truth. This is an intriguing premise for an unreliable narrator and one that I don’t think I’d encountered before.

I also enjoyed the thought experiment behind the novel, the idea that we can somehow get involved in the lives of people who will never know we exist just by watching them from afar. It’s eerie to think about these kinds of things, but also fascinating in my opinion. When Rachel commutes to and from London, she notices everything that is going on on the other side of the train’s window, and yet she remains unseen herself. When I commute, I barely ever see anything other than the pages of my book or the screen of my Kindle. Not that that’s going to change now – I enjoy reading too much to turn away from it to stalk random people living by the tracks. Speaking of which: I’m also kind of glad to be living far enough away from them to be out of the line of sight of anyone who might have different priorities!

However, aside from the intriguing set-up and the fascinating concept of an unreliable narrator who is aware of her own shortcomings, I felt that Hawkins tried too hard to keep up the suspense by making all of the characters look equally as sinister towards the end of the novel. None of the characters are actually very likeable to begin with, which isn’t a problem as such, if it weren’t for the exaggerated evilness that is attributed to almost all of them in the end. I assume this was supposed to throw in some extra plot twists and keep the reader guessing, but for me it actually had the opposite effect. I think the novel would have had enough plot twists without the merry-go-round of wickedness that the reader is thrown onto throughout the last part of the book. At some point, I just sort of zoned out and stopped guessing altogether, because I’d realised that I’d run into a theme: Character A is actually evil, character B is actually really violent, and guess what – character C is a dick, too. I get it, people are bad, but was it really necessary to turn everybody into a potential murderer to make that point?

I’m still looking forward to the film adaptation though – I think this book could actually work really well as a film. Who knows – maybe this is the first book adaptation I can get through without complaining about the book being better. Wait, that sounds wrong. I don’t mean to say I didn’t like the book, because I did. It’s just…well, I guess I tried to explain. Maybe I should start recommending The Girl on the Train to people – just to see whether I’m alone with my assessment or whether anybody shares my views. That being said, you should definitely read this novel. 😉

(No, actually: please do read it. It’s a good book.)

Did you read The Girl on the Train? Did you like it? Hate it? Does anyone understand what I mean by not being able to form a clear opinion on it?

And: Are you going to watch the film adaptation?


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