We review The Girl On The Train with avid reader Vinitha Rajan
Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train has been anointed this season’s Gone Girl- the book all book clubs are reading, the book Hollywood is itching to adapt, and the book that everyone loves to hate in equal measure.
Since so much of the plot of the book hinges upon the disparate accounts of three different narrators- the girl on the train Rachel, the bystander Anna and the ‘victim’ Megan- we thought that the best way to review it would be to have more than one reader talk about it. Blogger and Twitter friend Vinitha agreed to share her views on the book with us. Here goes!
I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.
Paula Hawkins had me at these words. Totally and completely. I think that was the moment I knew I had to complete Rachel’s story. I tried to disregard all the voices in my head throwing questions at me and plunged into the story of “The Girl on the Train”.
I understand the golden rule of writing – characters have to be real, they need to have flaws etcetera etcetera. But every single character in this book is so crazy. Every time I try to relate to Rachel, the author introduces yet another flaw. I just didn’t want to like the voyeuristic, lusting-after-her-ex-husband Rachel. She is a serial liar with just occasional bursts of sane moments. You wonder why she refuses to seek help when even she knows she is “damage all over”. There are moments when you want to reach across the pages, grab her by the neck and ask her to get a grip.
And then there is Megan, the victim who is desperate to be loved. So desperate that she cheats (rather regularly) on her seemingly nice husband Scott. She is chronically depressed and suspicious. As I discovered Megan’s ghosts from the past, I could see why this was the case, but that didn’t make it any easier to like her.
Finally there’s the current Mrs.Watson – Anna. So in love with her husband and their life together. Quite often she comes across as a standard caricature of women who fall for a married man. I was determined to hate Anna and I did.
My first impression of Tom was not good. It was quite evident that he had his own secrets even when he is portrayed as a loving husband and doting father. His personality seems mighty confused and I don’t know why the author chose to portray him thus. He is almost a shadow through most of the book – flirting in the background, making the atmosphere rather sinister.
But it is interesting to note that all the voices we hear in this book are female. That stands out.
Given all these issues you would think I hate the book. I do not. In fact it is one of the better books I’ve read lately. The author knows how to pace her twists, and the book makes a thrilling read. Is it the next Gone Girl? I think it is unfair to compare them both. They are not very alike apart from being thrillers written by a woman.
Here are some questions that popped into my mind while reading : Why do so many characters in the book love trains? Why has the train become an integral part of story telling? (I was thinking about Murakami’s latest book). And the shaming – why do I get the feeling that Rachel is being bullied by the author for losing it when she couldn’t have a child? For being an alcoholic? For being overweight? For losing her job?
And finally do you feel that the book just drags on and on in places, there are long passages of nothingness, and then suddenly so much happens!
Thank you Vinitha!
I completely agree that The Girl On The Train doesn’t have any characters you can wholeheartedly root for (although, I must confess that there’s a part of me that wants Rachel to find peace- flaws and all). And at the same time the story is so compelling that you keep turning the pages in spite of yourself.
Two things stood out in this book for me. The first is that women judge other women, often with disdain. Both Anna and Rachel despise each other, and believe themselves superior. Surprisingly they are both sympathetic towards the vacillating Tom, who deserves more scorn from them. Rachel first admires Megan (“Jess”) from a distance without knowing too much about her, and then goes a full 360 degree into not liking her at all when she begins to build a bond with her husband Scott. As you pointed out, even the author Paula Hawkins seems to judge Rachel for all her issues. And I just wish that on the whole, there was more empathy in the narrative. These are flawed women, but they all deserve a little more love than the story or its characters afforded them.
The other interesting theme was how motherhood (or the absence of it) seems to be such a large driver of the action. All three women are defined by their relationships with their wombs- Anna blinded by her love for her little baby, Rachel driven to drink by her inability to have a baby, and Megan (SPOILER, SPOILER, SPOILER) still mourning the death of her child. I am not quite sure what to make of this in a book which is otherwise so feminist.
I know what you mean about the pace. I think that writers are sometimes stymied by turning each piece of writing into a psychological case study instead of just a well-written and well-plotted thriller. I also thought that the end was a bit unconvincing. I like being shocked but I don’t like feeling cheated.
To read or not to read?
Would I recommend this book? Yes! It is a perfect travel companion for filling those long hours cramped in uncomfortable seats. It keeps you hooked. I can’t answer your movie question as I usually don’t watch movies and prefer the written world.
I would also recommend this book – for a read by the pool, or in a flight. But I doubt it has the staying power of a Gone Girl of even of last year’s thriller du jour Big Little Lies. And for me, that’s largely because of the forced manner in which the book ends.
As for who I would like to see in the movie version, I always have thoughts on that. But for a change, we will leave that to MBRB Readers.
So dear readers, who will make the perfect flawed Rachel in your celluloid dreams?
Vinitha Rajan is an opinionated mom, an environmental engineer, writer, Sustainability and Climate Change Believer, dance aficionado, bibliomanic, expat wife, and wanderer. You can read more of her reflections and musings here.
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Book Cover from amazon.com