Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

w544850Read for: Mom gave me a copy!

Rating: 4/5

Well, this was a really great read. I actually read it cover to cover in one day! *applause* I’m sure everyone is already talking about this thriller as it is making big waves, so I won’t get super detailed here but I will talk about how much I enjoyed it.

The Girl on the Train starts with the POV of Rachel, THE girl on the train, and a total hot mess. She’s an alcoholic who hasn’t gotten over the man who divorced her for a younger woman, whom he now has a small child with. She takes the train to work every morning and when it stops in the neighbourhood she used to call home she looks into the windows of a house a few doors down from the home she shared with her husband (where he now lives with his new wife). She has created a fictional story for the couple living in the home and projects what she presumably is missing in her life on them; they have a wonderful relationship, they are in love, they are young and have the whole world ahead of them. Until one day the train stops and she looks in the windows and sees something that shatters the fake life she has created in her head of the couple and leads her to believe that something is very, very wrong.

The book continues pretty rapid fire with the addition of a few other POVs and a gradual unfolding of the facts until the surprising conclusion which had me clinging to the edge of my office chair.

Rachel quickly became one of my favourite narrators; she was sooo flawed and, honestly, lovably pathetic. Her voice was very real and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve read a book with a character like this that was so prominent and not just included for comic relief or as a background character to add tension. Hawkins did a fantastic job of getting into the mind of a woman with a drink problem who is delusional in many ways, and I thought this was an original way to have a thriller unfold… Rachel thinks she holds the key to the mystery but because of her constant drinking and blacking out she just can’t remember. I loved it. It’s always nice to read a story where the characters aren’t the same ultra attractive yet bullheaded and intelligent/overconfident blend we see so often (I’m envisioning just about every YA female protagonist, here). Rachel is overweight and drunk and crying and miserable, but still very clever. She fights her own battles and is determined to get to the bottom of everything, even if it means making herself look the fool at every turn.

Lots of people are comparing this to Gone Girl, though I can only imagine the reason behind this is that it’s a) written by a female author b) a twisty-turny thriller that is pretty hard to predict c) all the characters are totally cray and generally unlikeable. There are very few similarities in the actual plot, but the unique way it unfolds could conceivably be considered in the same camp as Gone Girl because it’s just so unlike the formulaic thrillers that are all over the place.

So, did I have any problems with this book? Sure, it could be argued that there is some gender essentialism going on; the men are mostly all written as super aggressive and controlling, and the women all appear nurturing and weak… but if I let essentialism ruin my experience of a book I would probably be hating on most of the books I read. This type of characterization happens a lot and it’s a thing that most people don’t really notice, I think. Men tend to have stereotypically “manly” traits and the women have stereotypically “womanly” traits. This book also contained a LOT of man-on-woman violence which I’m pretty sick to death of reading about, though sadly this is the state of the world and the events that happen in this book are totally realistic (sidebar: I sometimes get a nauseous feeling when a book featuring so much violence against women explodes all over the literary scene and people gobble it up and think it’s amazing without feeling uncomfortable with the subject matter: I’m looking at you The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). All that aside, I did think The Girl on the Train was an excellent thriller and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read this spring!

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