60. The Girl on the Train 

The last novel that I read that had achieved real hype was Gone Girl – which I thoroughly enjoyed and was really surprised by. But I’m not sure how I feel about the Girl on the Train. I rarely find myself with a soft spot for thrillers, Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is an obvious exception but its not really a genre that grabs me (unless… they are set in space.)

But there is something to this novel that seems to have taken the world by storm a little, much like Gone Girl. But unlike Gone Girl, the Girl on the Train is not a good chaos-revenge story with an stupid guy protagonist and calculating wife with a lack of empathy. This is an easy to read, memory-loss-whodunit-thriller. I know plenty of people who read it in a day or a few days because they just could not put it down. But I’m not sure if I’m sold.

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

The difficulty I had with this novel is that I didn’t particularly like the protagonist. Emotionally broken alcoholic Rachel is unable to get over her divorce, she is living with a friend and regularly leaves a tatter of vomit and panties in her wake at any given moment. She has lost her job, but still travels to and from London to keep up the pretence that she is working. Rachel has really hit rock bottom. Her ex has remarried and now has a small child with a beautiful woman named Anna. And poor Rachel is a shell of who she was.

As Rachel goes into London every day she tries to ignore seeing her old home (which her ex and his new wife still live in) and focuses instead on another property. The couple that live there she has given names and fabricated the details of their lives. Although she sees them fleetingly she is convinced they have a Hollywood perfect romance and that their relationship is something to be worshiped for it’s unattainability.

Then suddenly, interrupting Rachel’s mundane, upsetting existence of alcohol and harassing her ex and emotionally torturing herself, the wife of the couple she spies on – Megan, suddenly disappears and is all over the news. And Rachel who had recently been black out drunk and in the area Megan lives is convinced there is something she has forgotten but isn’t entirely sure what it is.

Rachel is a difficult protagonist for me to connect with. A lot of the characters in this novel weren’t particularly satisfying because all of them have flaws that seem to dominate them, rage, infidelity, violence, avoidance, paranoia, anxiety, alcoholism this book is riddled with them. And unfortunately in this world of hot messes Rachel is Queen of the hill.

By the end of the novel I found myself empathising with Rachel but only because through the majority of it I could hear myself thinking “Oh… honey.” She seems to take one bad turn after another and will not stop picking at the thing that ultimately leads to the big twist which was kind of unsurprising for me. This was an easy read because its so lightly written and I felt as if Hawkins was trying very hard to bewilder the reader with the drama in social relationships. But muddying the water this way resulted in engaging me and then disappointing me slightly.

Because OF COURSE. It had to end the way it did and the way it ended I feel was a dramatic disappointment because it was easy and convenient.

I feel as if I have very little to say about this novel because there wasn’t much substance for me to tease out of the pages. But what did strike me as interesting is the perceptions that are taken on in this novel. Rachel is an unreliable narrator, even for her own life because she spends a lot of time having her story parroted back to her by other people as she cannot remember because of alcohol abuse. The tenuous nature of truth and what is fabrication is certainly a key player in this novel and honestly I think it is the only redeeming feature that I have managed to glean from it.

Others would enjoy this far more than me, it was alright, but it needs more space ships and shit.

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59. Cat’s Cradle 

“Nothing in this book is true.”

Hello! I am a little behind on my posts because I ran away to South America. But as I am now back it is time to pick up where we left off. As I have said in an earlier post it is a little bit of a personal mission of mine to read more Vonnegut, after Slapstick I was filled with doubt. It was an absurd read that left me feeling a little out of step. But despite my best efforts to resist my own curiosity (and the unread paperback sat beside my bed) I read Cat’s Cradle and was quite surprised!

It is a playful, satirical fantasy concerning the shortcomings and irresponsibilities of a fictional atomic scientist. This novel begins with a degenerate writer, John, placing his last bets on writing a book about the bombing of Hiroshima. His research naturally takes him to the preeminent physicist Dr. Felix Hoenikker the co-creator of the atomic bomb and father of three peculiar children.

Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

I admire Vonnegut. I am coming to believe that he is one of those multifaceted writers who possess the tenacity to stare at any topic squarely in the eye, poke fun at it, and then roar with laugher. Written at the time when the world was still unclenching after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cat’s Cradle has similar ‘end of the world’ fears. But the novel treats these fears as sort of absurdities which may be grasped at and but never fully faced in a way that annihilates all peace of mind.

Vonnegut probably puts it best in his fictitious religion Bokononism, the religion itself is founded on bittersweet lies and encourages its followers to live by ‘harmless untruths’. The philosophy, which I am certain most people unwittingly follow is to ‘live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.’

Although the late Felix Hoenikker cannot give his account of the events leading up to his death, his children can. They tell of a cooly detached man, obsessed with his work and puzzle solving who had little grasp of how to navigate personal relationships. By all accounts Hoenikker is the formidable mind behind the horror of Cat’s Cradle but possess a lack of empathy which renders this calculating scientist into a grotesque two dimensional person. How reliable his children are is up for question but Hoenikker’s last rumoured achievement indicates perhaps their judgement is not far from accurate.

John discovers, rumour of Hoenikker’s ‘Ice-9’. A dangerous substance because of it’s ability to rearrange the molecular structure of water so it becomes solid at room temperature. Ice-9 is Hoenikker’s answer to assisting the military move through muddy terrain, however the short coming of this substance is that it cannot isolate one patch of mud. It turns every drop of liquid it comes into contact with into a solid state. The question of whether it is a finished product is never addressed as to use Ice-9 would have terrible consequences for the world’s water supply.

When Hoenikker dies, Ice-9 is shared by, or debatably stolen by, his three children Frank, Newt and Angela. The short comings of this novel do not simply lie with one character, they divide Ice-9 as a sort of birth right and then proceed to use it for their own gains. Concequently Newt has a run in with a Russian Spy, Angela bags herself a husband, and Frank becomes the right hand man of a dictator.

But it doesn’t end there, John and the Hoenikker children meet again on a small island nation of San Lorenzo. Said dictator, “Papa” Monzano, is quite ill but has thoroughly oppressed his people with the help of Frank, who is due to be married to Monzano’s daughter, Mona. After spending the majority of the novel looking for the mysterious Frank, when John finally meets Frank he looses all interest. Because of course, John falls in love with Mona. Mona is very much the friction at the end of the novel, she appears the promiscuous devout follower of Bokononism and claims her heart is not monogamous when John demands to possess all of her love. (You go girl.)

And then something terrible happens. But that’s the end of the novel so I’m not going to completely… spoil it.

So, my verdict: I really liked it. There was a lot of insight in this novel that I think is very culturally relevant. It was a beautiful comment on weaponry being created to serve a purpose with little thought of the reality of actually using it. The ideas of self sabotage and capitalism are overwhelming. Although Vonnegut’s humour does lighten the mood and encourages you to laugh at the man convinced the people of San Lorenzo want to make bicycles for his company, but this is still a bleak and pessimistic novel at the core.

But I didn’t feel pessimistic reading it, in fact it was engaging and difficult to put down. This is contemporary satire that touches on a number of subjects and successfully doesn’t drown the reader within it’s own agenda. But I do think though this is a novel I will have to revisit because I am certain there is more to be had on a second reading.