By Maggie James
I know I'm late to the party with this one - The Girl on the Train has been a bestseller for a while now, and I've been meaning to read it for ages. I've finally done so, and my review is this week's blog post. To whet your appetite, let me quote the Amazon book description:
'Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see she’s much more than just the girl on the train…'
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Let's talk first about Rachel, the novel's protagonist. She's overweight, divorced and bitter, prone to mulling over her failed marriage to Tom and lying to her long-suffering housemate. Having been sacked from her job months before, she maintains the fiction she's still employed by leaving for ‘work’ every day, returning each evening on her usual train, her emotions dulled by copious amounts of booze.
Obsessed with her old life, Rachel is forced to confront it daily as her journey passes her old home where her ex now lives (happily) with his new wife, Anna, and their daughter Evie. Tom and Anna aren't the sole focus of Rachel's obsessive nature, though. A few doors away live Scott and Megan, a seemingly perfect couple. She becomes fascinated with them, weaving fantasises about their relationship and comparing herself unfavourably with Megan.
What's more, she often behaves badly. She harasses Tom with frequent and self-pitying phone calls, hoping he'll take her back, she sneaks into their house to snatch Evie, and admits to having smashed a golf club against a wall in anger. Thanks to her behaviour, Rachel has only one friend, her housemate Cathy, who copes patiently with the lies, vomiting and drinking binges.
Rachel's a compelling character, but the reader is given indications from the start she may be an unreliable narrator, due to the booze, which causes her to suffer blackouts and memory loss. Her alcoholism plays a major role in the plot; if she hadn't been drunk on one particular night, she'd have remembered a crucial piece of evidence that hovers just out of reach in her memory.
A cast of unpleasant and damaged characters...
I did warm to Rachel as the story progressed. She manages to lay off the booze to act as an amateur sleuth to unravel the truth behind the other characters' dysfunctional lives. None of them are especially likeable either. The novel is told from the points of view of Rachel, Anna and Megan, and from the chapters devoted to the latter two characters, we discover that all is not rosy in this particular corner of Heaven, despite appearances to the contrary. Anna's smug and self-satisfied; she exults in poaching Tom from Rachel, revealing how she loved being so desirable he couldn't resist her charms. Megan is, for me, the most unpleasant. She happily cheats on her husband, feels suffocated by their marriage, and attempts to seduce the hapless psychotherapist who tries to help her. Scott himself is prone to jealousy and angry outbursts. Tom appears nice enough at first, but as the novel progresses we learn he's not what he seems either.
With a book as hyped as this, there's always the danger the reality will disappoint. Not so with The Girl on the Train. I read the book straight through in one sitting, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not that it's perfect (is any novel?) There were two points at which I wondered, 'would X really do that?' In addition, the story jumped around somewhat, meaning the narrative voice sometimes came from someone already dead, which read strangely. Each chapter is headed with the date and time, however, as well as who's telling the story at that point, which helps the reader keep track. Other than those minor gripes, however, this is an absorbing novel. The story hurtles along not much slower than Rachel's train, never failing to interest. Unlike some readers, I didn't see the end coming, although with hindsight I probably should have. After all, the options for resolving the plot are limited, but the pace of the narrative swept me along with it. If you like psychological suspense novels that are full of twists and turns, I think you'll enjoy this book.
Let's hear from you!
Have you read 'The Girl on the Train'? What did you think? Does the fact the characters all behave badly bother you? Did you predict the ending? Leave a comment and let me know!
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