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 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.