The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins rose to #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List last week, and I finished reading it just in time to agree – it is the new Gone Girl. I never read Gone Girl, haven’t seen the movie either. I would generally say crime fiction isn’t my genre, but after a recent train trip to Chicago to see our daughter, I found myself in a large downtown Barnes and Noble bookstore where I picked up a copy of this book intending to read the first page. The first page turned into the first chapter, and then another and then another. That is why The Girl on the Train will stay atop the best sellers list. The narrative travels at a speeding train’s pace and, as the cover image hints, it compels the reader with a Hitchcockian, “Rear Window” brand of intrigue.
Rachel, one of the three female characters, is a sort of train wreck of a character. She is an out of work, alcoholic divorcee who continues to take the train into London each day to keep up the charade of employment, so that the girlfriend who she is temporarily living with won’t kick her out of the apartment. Since she isn’t really going to work, she can drink canned gin and tonics on the train and allow herself the revelry of staring out the window, imagining the lives of people she sees on the front porches outside the stations where the train stops. And so it begins! She sees something curious and disturbing one day – or does she? Due to her abuse of alcohol and her fragile mental state, she frequently blacks out, or seriously doubts her memory in hungover light of day. So can she be a reliable witness for a murder case?
She isn’t even a reliable narrator. Neither is Anna, wife of Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband. Neither is Megan, murder victim and wife of Scott, who has a secret past creepier than the events surrounding her murder case. These three narrate the novel which switches frequently from story teller to story teller, from past to present, from the discomfort of home to the safety and anonymity of a moving train compartment.