Reviewed by Patty Friedrichs
I love unreliable narrators, especially in crime fiction. Their white lies, deliberate omissions, skewed view of themselves and memory lapses add an extra layer of tension to already nail-biting whodunits.
Rachel likes a bit of a drink. She thinks nothing of cracking open a can of pre-mixed gin-and-tonic or two or three at ten on a weekday morning. She suffers from black-outs and is deeply depressed. Her last long-term relationship failed; she is fat and ugly; she lets a tiny room from a girl she vaguely knew at university… She is pissing her life away, in other words.
But she still makes an effort to catch the train into town every morning and travel back home again eight hours later.
Rachel looks forward to this daily commute because it calms and centres her. It gives her the semblance of a routine.
She likes to watch the homes along the tracks and imagine the kinds of lives the people in them lead. Then, one day, as her train stops for a few seconds, she sees something she should not have; something that shakes her world, such as it is, to its core and she decides to investigate. Where will her sleuthing lead? And will anyone believe the drunken ramblings of a madwoman?
This book is nothing like Gone Girl. For a start, it is much better. I read The Girl on the Train in one sitting and I don’t think I drew a single breath throughout. The story is genuinely frightening, because this could happen to you. We all commute to work, make snap decisions about the people we fleetingly meet while we go about our business, imagining their lives to be perfect fairy tales that we could never hope to attain. We all have days when we think: “Oh sod it. I’m staying in bed watching Netflix today. I can’t cope with colleagues or the rush hour or going to the supermarket for my dinner or any of it. Not today.” This book taps into that, magnifies it and turns it into something horrendous. Gone Girl was all right, but (SPOILER ALERT!) two stone-cold psychopaths finding each other, marrying, trying to destroy one another and then deciding to make a go of it once more? I don’t buy it.
The awfully thin line between having it all and being one vodka-martini away from going completely off the rails (I’m terribly sorry…) is much more terrifying.
I loved it and am curious to see what else Paula Hawkins has in store.
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An ebook of The Girl on the Train can be found here.
More of Patty’s thoughts about books, and many other things besides, can be read on Twitter: @voltaires_vice.