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Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girl on trainA 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?

Everyone does it. When we’re sitting on a train, on a plane, or in the passenger side of the car, we look out and wonder who lives in the houses that we pass, and what their lives are like. We make up simple stories about them, and – for just minute – we are distracted from our own lives. For Rachel, her daily journey on the train becomes her outlet, as she imagines an alternative life for the people living in the houses – including her former husband, and her former home. These images become obsessions for Rachel and she soon falls down the rabbit hole as she believes she has information about a missing woman from one of the houses she passes, and crime that has been committed.

There are three perspectives in this novel, and each is unreliable. Rachel is the most predominate character, as we start the story through her own eyes. She is desperate to find some semblance of the life she once had, but is now reduced to harassing her ex-husband and his new family while drinking to the point of blackouts and vomiting. Everything about her is meant to be unattractive, and even the police dismiss her in time. She is unlikable, yet she is also compelling. As her story is revealed, you can’t help but feel a little sad for her although you can’t look away from the mess of her life.

“They’re happy, I can tell. They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and me, five years ago. They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.”

Megan is the mysterious woman Rachel spots from the train, initially observed with her husband as they dine out on the rooftop. She becomes the missing woman of the piece, and she is equally disturbing with a story told in flashbacks that reveals an unexpected vulnerability. Her relationship with her husband Scott is murky; like Megan, all is not as it appears from the train, and Rachel cannot help but be drawn into his world. Finally, there is Anna, who has taken over Rachel’s life in every way – wife to her ex-husband, mother to the child Rachel could not have, and resident in her old home. While blissfully happy with her life, she is also a woman of secrets, and her POV is teased out the longest; you never really feel as if you know her until the end of the story.

The best part about Hawkins’ storytelling lies in her ability to draw you in slowly, wrapping you up in the story as tight as a spider’s web and leaving you completely transfixed as you hurtle towards the end. There are enough twists and turns in the narration to keep you fully engaged, and you swing between sympathy and fear in a heartbeat. With all three narrators being equally obsessed in some fashion, you truly don’t know what the reality of the facts might be, because the characters themselves aren’t so sure. If you ever needed a reminder that perspective is everything, this book would

Many will compare this book to Gone Girl; however, I found this story to be much more intense, with imagery and suspense worthy of a Hitchcock film. While we’ve all imagined a life for the people we see in houses by the railway or the side of the road, at the end of the day they are just imaginings. Sometimes the reality can be much darker and less pleasant, and far more frightening.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday Canada and is available for purchase from your favourite indie bookseller, or from your local digital or print store. An advanced copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review. ISBN:  9781594633669, 336 pages. 

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