My book for this week is the summer hit The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. I’m signed up to Sunny Sweet Pea’s Bloggers Book Club, but as yet have been unable to participate in the chats due to work schedules. So seeing this on the June/July list was the perfect excuse to treat myself! And when I started reading this, something happened which hasn’t occurred for a good few years now. I read it from cover to cover through in one day.
Yep, that’s right. This book draws you in and won’t let go. I quickly became caught up in the story, and found myself tearing through it on the journey home from Kent, followed by a binge reading session in the park on my return to Camberwell. Now I am a fast reader, but over 300 pages in a day is still impressive! I haven’t read something that fast since I devoured the second and third Hunger Games books (each of which also took about a day)
The Girl On The Train is told from the viewpoint of Rachel, a woman in her mid-30s whose life has fallen apart since the breakdown of her marriage several years ago. She was already on the downward slide into alcoholism as her marriage disintegrated, but at the point at which we see her she is at her lowest, stumbling through and measuring time between being drunk, hungover or alcohol withdrawn.
Every day Rachel catches the same train, and every day it stops at a signal outside a particular house on a quiet, suburban street overlooking the train line. And the gorgeous young couple she sees there quickly take on lives of their own inside Rachel’s head. She calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines what their lives are like – a little form of escapism from the downward spiral that is her own life. But one day she sees something that changes everything, and decides that she has to take action. Rachel makes the leap from observer to participant in Jess and Jason’s lives, and the consequences of her actions consume and overwhelm them all.
I can’t really say much more about the book without ruining the plot, but it is a fascinating read and draws you in right from the start with all the unanswered questions posed. A lot of people have said that Rachel is an unreliable narrator, but I think this is slightly misleading. It isn’t that she sets out to deceive the reader, more that her alcoholism makes those around her doubt her credibility. Even she cannot trust herself to know what she has seen, said and done. Which of course adds to the mystery, as Rachel struggles to piece back together memories of a crucial night and fights to rediscover sobriety.
The characters are all incredibly flawed, and I admit I found it difficult to warm to anyone. Rachel wallows in self-pity and allows her addiction to run her life, and I really only felt like she redeemed herself in my eyes towards the end of the book. However, the story is a powerful, no holds barred description of alcohol addiction, and the lows it can make a person sink to, and this adds a gritty extra dimension of interest beyond the lives of Rachel’s Jess and Jason.
I guessed the overall villain of the story before the end (there are several in their own ways, but we’re talking the most serious one here), but this was only because it got to a point where all other avenues had been exinguished, and it was the only logical option remaining. You won’t, however, be bored when reading this book. I was hooked, and found it so unputdownable (I’m sure that’s a real word!) that I had to retreat to the park to enjoy the sunshine and finish it on the afternoon I got home from Kent.
The Girl On The Train is one of the closest parallels the UK has to the Gone Girl style of thriller fiction, and puts a spin on British sleepy suburbia that will have you thinking twice. So next time you’re on the train pay attention to those around you, and what secrets they may be hiding in plain sight. And if you live at the side of a railway line, look up every now and then when a train goes by. You never know who may be watching you…