By Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books, A member of the Penguin Group, New York
A New York Times bestseller and published in 2015, The Girl on the Train is more recent and popular than the books I usually read. But rather than read from the pile of books I already have, I felt like something fun.
Set in England not too far from London, Rachel our unreliable drunken narrator, takes the same commuter train into London every day, even though she has lost her job several months ago. While on the train, she passes the house where she used to live with her ex-husband. Now he lives there with his new wife, Anna. Rachel also watches a young couple in another house not far from where she used to live. They are the perfect couple, completely in love, who she has even made up names for. Rachel wishes that she had their life. That is until something happens that sets something off in Rachel, something she can’t turn away from. Rachel suddenly turns into a modern day Miss Marple, who will cross multiple lines of social decency in order to figure out who done it.
The structure of this book is interesting. It is told in the first person present tense, and slips into past tense to give background information. It bounces its first-person perspective around between the key female characters in the novel, Rachel, Anna, and Megan. It’s interesting that the author chooses to never give us the male voice or perspective, but the females do a good job of holding our interest.
This book is a great example of how curiosity sometimes gets the better of us and how that curiosity, innocently enough, intrudes into other’s lives. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so it seems.
As I read this book, I’m confronted with my own questions about “bestsellers” versus “great literature.” I think great literature has at least two components. The first one is met by this book; great literature gives us an honest glimpse into human relationships or into the human condition. The other component that I’m not sure is met by this book is that great literature gives us a poetic insight that is so revealing that we are astounded by our connection to it. When I have this kind of connection to a book, I find myself uncontrollably taking notes. I don’t want to miss anything of what the author is telling me.
I third component that I really really want in my reading is a driving force that keeps me interested and keeps me reading. The Girl on the Train certainly has that. Rachel, our protagonist, is sort of a train wreck herself. Some of the other characters think she’s weak, but she isn’t and she isn’t timid either. Her driving passion to know the truth to really truly know makes her a strong character.
This is a masterful work. It feels authentic and reads well. Seeing the protagonist reclaiming her own strength is uplifting and believable. It’s a book certainly worthy of a bit of study.