Hyped as this year’s ‘Gone Girl‘, ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins tells the story of Rachel Watson, who takes the same commuter train every day to London. The train always stops at a red signal where she observes a seemingly perfect couple who she names Jess and Jason in their house which is coincidentally a few doors down from where she used to live with her ex-husband, Tom. Except one day, Rachel sees something shocking from the train and becomes more closely entwined with their lives when “Jess” suddenly disappears.
To say Rachel is bitter is an understatement. She is a slightly overweight, divorced, unemployed alcoholic with very low self-esteem. Having lost her job due to one too many drunken outbursts in the office, she continues her commute to Euston station every day to prevent her housemate Cathy from discovering that she isn’t currently working. She is also still in love with her ex-husband Tom who now lives with his new partner Anna and their young child.
The main narrative is told from the point of view of Rachel and is interlinked with other chapters told in the voices of Megan (aka “Jess”) and Anna. Rachel frequently lies and has alcoholic blackouts which means she has trouble piecing together the events which lead to Megan’s disappearance. However, she certainly isn’t the only flawed character. Whereas the story of ‘Gone Girl’ was centred around two unreliable narrators, it seems that every major character in ‘The Girl on the Train’ cannot be trusted. The “leads” which I expected to go somewhere turned out not to go anywhere, so the final showdown was a real surprise.
Tightly written and cleverly structured, ‘The Girl in the Train’ has all of the ingredients for a satisfying psychological thriller. As a commuter in London myself, the main premise of the story – catching glimpses of the lives of those who live in houses which back on to railway lines and creating imaginary lives for them – was particularly appealing. Despite the numerous comparisons to ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, I think ‘The Girl on the Train’ also shares several similarities with ‘Notes on a Scandal‘ by Zoe Heller due to the contemporary suburban London setting, oppressive atmosphere and exceptionally bitter, cynical and obsessive narrator.
Overall, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a gripping and compelling debut novel which is sure to be one of the most talked about books of 2015. If you have already read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.
‘The Girl on the Train’ will be published in the UK on 15th January by Transworld. Many thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy via NetGalley.