Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Posted February 9, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 8 Comments

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Original Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
Publisher: Riverhead

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A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

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I saw a ton of buzz for The Girl on the Train as the next big mystery/thriller, so of course I was intrigued by the book when I saw it in the library. I’m not always a fan of straight-up mysteries, but I can get behind dark and twisty thrillers. The Girl on the Train succeeded in being dark, but I was less enthused about the thriller aspects of it all as I found it too simplistic for the label of psychological thriller.

I found the mystery behind The Girl on the Train intriguing enough. Through main character Rachel,  the reader is introduced to a couple she passes while on the train everyday. Rachel doesn’t know these people, but she idealizes their life as a happy one as they live on the same road where Rachel’s marriage–and consequently, her life–fell apart. Then, Megan, one half of the couple, goes missing. . . and Rachel thinks she might have a clue as to why, based upon something she saw while on the train one day.

The Girl on the Train focuses on this mystery as well as Rachel’s ex-husband and and his new wife. Everything seems to be connected to these people that populate this one particular street, and Rachel struggles to put all the pieces together. Her search for the truth is hindered by her alcoholism, as she often drinks to the point of blacking out.

The novel is told in three POVs(Rachel, Megan, and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife) each get a point of view, but the vast majority of the story is told by Rachel, which is where The Girl on the Train began to lose me. Rachel is not an interesting character. Look, I don’t care if your main character is likable or the worst person to be born ever, but for the love of the English language, please make them interesting. Interesting, in this case, can be defined as “possessing a personality”, as Rachel does not have a defining trait outside of her grief over losing her ex-husband and her alcoholism. That’s it. That’s her character.

I think the author was attempting to use Rachel’s alcoholism and subsequent blackouts to make her an unreliable narrator, but this technique didn’t really work for me. Unreliable narrators are tricky and since Rachel wasn’t lying to the reader or herself–she simply couldn’t remember–it felt like a cheap way to up the tension. For a good middle portion of the novel, The Girl on the Train didn’t seem to have much forward momentum. There were only so many pages I could take of Rachel crying about her ex-husband and drinking herself into a stupor.

I found the unreliability in narration worked much better in Megan’s chapters. Her point of view was by far my favorite, if only for the contrast between her actual life and the life that Rachel imagined for her. I found Megan worked much better as an unreliable narrator because in her case there WAS the fact that she was the one keeping things hidden, not just not being able to remember something. She was so fascinating and I wished that Rachel had been written to be just as interesting, as I would have liked the book so much more.

The Girl on the Train did pick up towards the end once the book became more about the mystery than Rachel’s cycle of self-destruction. It almost made me sad for the book that could have been, because once I was done reading pages and pages of Rachel drinking and pretty much nothing else, the book became great. Everything was so tightly plotted and while I don’t think this book was as twisty as many thrillers, I loved the utter conviction of the ending. That made it worth reading, despite how utterly boring I found the main character.

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The Girl on the Train  seems to be one of 2015’s “IT” books, so I might be the black sheep here, but I didn’t think it was anything super special. I liked the ending and I enjoyed the plot, but I found the main character so incredibly boring. I kept reading for Megan’s chapters, mainly. 2.5 cupcakes, rounding up to 3.

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3 Stars

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8 responses to “Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

  1. I actually really liked this one and enjoyed Rachel as a narrator. She’s such a flawed character, and it’s clear she’s dealing with depression and alcoholism. Her struggles felt very real to me, and her sort of aimlessness as a character made sense given her circumstances. It’s not a perspective you see often in literature, so I enjoyed having that point of view. Thanks for the review!

  2. I’m not a bit psychological thriller fan, so I most likely wouldn’t have liked this either. Thank you for your honest review!

    • Stormy

      Definitely not a good one if thriller’s not your genre! I feel I walk a line with books like this sometimes because I LOVE thrillers but I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries, and there’s definitely some overlap.

  3. I’m surprised that you were able to get this one at the library because it seems to be so HUGE – I’d imagine I’d have to be like number 100 on the wait list o.O.

    “The Girl on the Train succeeded in being dark, but I was less enthused about the thriller aspects of it all as I found it too simplistic for the label of psychological thriller.” — Ooooh interesting. (I know virtually nothing about this book, so even hearing that it’s a mystery + thriller, I’m intrigued by your review).

    “The Girl on the Train focuses on this mystery as well as Rachel’s ex-husband and and his new wife. Everything seems to be connected to these people that populate this one particular street, and Rachel struggles to put all the pieces together. Her search for the truth is hindered by her alcoholism, as she often drinks to the point of blacking out.” — o.O. Okay, what you said so far, about the couple, and then Megan disappearing, and this… I’m hooked.

    “Look, I don’t care if your main character is likable or the worst person to be born ever, but for the love of the English language, please make them interesting. Interesting, in this case, can be defined as “possessing a personality”, as Rachel does not have a defining trait outside of her grief over losing her ex-husband and her alcoholism.” — I agree with this assessment in that I don’t mind unlikable characters so long as they’re three dimensional. o.o

    “I think the author was attempting to use Rachel’s alcoholism and subsequent blackouts to make her an unreliable narrator, but this technique didn’t really work for me…she simply couldn’t remember” — Ah, yes, I saw someone reading this recently say they weren’t a huge fan of this element as it seemed too “convenient.”

    “There were only so many pages I could take of Rachel crying about her ex-husband and drinking herself into a stupor.” — Hmm, that sounds tedious.

    “I found the unreliability in narration worked much better in Megan’s chapters. Her point of view was by far my favorite, if only for the contrast between her actual life and the life that Rachel imagined for her.” — When you described the premise, that’s what I liked best. I like the idea of some girl on a train imagining the life of these people and then actually finding out what happened to them, idealism vs. reality…

    The ending sounds really good. You don’t too much like a black sheep :P. Maybe you didn’t fall for the tremendous hype, but it sounds like you at least enjoyed the book. Will you continue with the author’s next title?

    • Stormy

      Hah, I was sneaky and placed my hold the day my library ordered it in early December! I kept checking the online catalog daily, so I ended up #1 on the list.
      I LOVED the premise of this book for sure. I kept going back and forth about the alcoholism aspect. On one hand, it did seem super convenient, but on the other I do think it was developed mostly well and showed HOW Rachel got to that place. She has a history with her alcoholism beyond that it was just convenient for the story. For me, the issue was more about how it was suppose to make her an unreliable narrator–I prefer my narrators to be intentionally unreliable, like Verity in Code Name Verity or like some of Gillian Flynn’s works(I haven’t read all three of her books yet).

      As far as next title goes, I’m not sure. I’ll probably put it on the maybe list for now. I enjoyed this book a fair amount while reading, but the more I thought about it the more I felt “eh” about it.

  4. I have heard a lot of great things about this book. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more. I will still give it a shot, but we’ll see if I enjoy it or not. 🙂

    • Stormy

      I hope you enjoy it more than I did! It wasn’t a bad book, but I didn’t find it as twisty and dark as I was hoping it would be.

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