The Girl on the Train is the debut novel from Paula Hawkins. The book follows the narration of three – very contrasting, but strong – female leads: Rachel, Megan and Anna. The adventure begins through the first person narration of Rachel, who we follow mostly throughout the book, and her life is basically in shambles. We eventually gather that she’s an alcoholic, she lost her husband to another woman (who now has a child with the other woman), and that she now stays in a tiny bedroom with her friend. The way that Hawkins carefully unravels the story sets up this trust that we have in Rachel and the other narrators that we are getting all the details of the story. Especially, the way that the story is traced back and forth after the disappearance of Megan and eventually including Anna when we lose the voice of Megan – there’s nothing we could be missing right? However there’s a lot more to it than that, this mysterious novel is a page turner and definitely had me guessing what was going to happen all the way until the last page. I definitely don’t want to give any major spoilers, but I have to at least share a few quotes from the book that I found to be such a haunting representation of these major characters.
The first comes from Rachel, “Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps.” Hawkins perfectly captures the beginning and end of Rachel. As mentioned before, when we first meet Rachel she has absolutely lost everything and her life has turned upside down. She’s an alcoholic and pretends to have a job, traveling on the train as if she were still going back and forth to work. Often blacking out, she remembers nothing and has to rely on what Tom (her ex-husband) tells her happens. However, things aren’t adding up the way that she’s starting to remember. She can’t get back the time that she missed in her blackouts. She finally has a reason to be sober and starts to fight for what she knows to be true. Rachel is truly the most inspirational character in the book.
Taking a drastic turn from inspirational to straight up crazy, the next two quotes come from Tom and Anna. The two most unbelievably terrible people – trust me, you’ll agree once you read the book. So remember when I mentioned that Tom is with another woman and has a child with her? Well that’s Anna. And to pretty much sum up the mentality of Anna, get a crack out of this, “I miss being a mistress. I enjoyed it. I loved it, in fact. I never felt guilty. I pretended I did. I had to, with my married girlfriends, the ones who live in terror of the pert au pair or the pretty, funny girl in the office who can talk about football and spends half her life in the gym. I had to tell them that of course I felt terrible about it, of course I felt bad for his wife, I never meant for any of this to happen, we fell in love, what could we do? The truth is, I never felt bad for Rachel…. She just wasn’t real to me, and anyway, I was enjoying myself too much. Being the other woman is a huge turn-on, there’s no point denying it: you’re the one he can’t help but betray his wife for, even though he loves her. That’s just how irresistible you are.” I honestly had sympathy for Tom and Anna, and had hope for their relationship, how wrong that judgement turned out to be. Anna doesn’t come into the picture as a narrator until around the middle of the book so you don’t know much about her just that Rachel continually comes to interrupt their household drunkenly. One time she even goes so far as to take her sleeping baby out of her crib. So at this point you’re thinking man, Rachel go home you’re drunk. Once we start getting Anna’s thoughts though you see that she has such a vendetta against Rachel. I can totally understand wanting to protect your child, however it’s so insane that she feels no sympathy for this woman whose life she stole and is obviously having a very hard time.
I initially wanted Tom to get the most out of this relationship, especially because he seemed to try to take care of Rachel through her worst. The plot twists in this book made me feel like an idiot. I’ll just leave this quote from Tom here, “You’re like one of those dogs, the unwanted ones that have been mistreated all their lives. You can kick them and kick them, but they’ll still come back to you, cringing and wagging their tails. Begging. Hoping that this time it’ll be different, that this time they’ll do something right and you’ll love them. You’re just like that, aren’t you, Rach? You’re a dog.” . . . . . . . um what? Yes, that came out of Tom’s mouth, the guy that I was initially rooting for. Let me just say that he is not who you think he is and I’ll leave it at that.
Of course, I have to save the most disturbing for last. Hawkins features this quote at the beginning of the book before the actual story begins, “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl. . . Three for a girl. I’m stuck on three, I just can’t get any further. My head is thick with sounds, my mouth thick with blood. Three for a girl. I can hear the magpies—they’re laughing, mocking me, a raucous cackling. A tiding. Bad tidings. I can see them now, black against the sun. Not the birds, something else. Someone’s coming. Someone is speaking to me. Now look. Now look what you made me do.” The articulation and imagery that Hawking inputs into this statement grabbed my attention right from the beginning. Reading through the book I kept waiting for the moment that this statement would show up again, and once it did it was so troublesome that I had to re-read the section again. Again I don’t want to give away too much, but I have to say that this is an absolutely must read, an exceptional piece of work from Hawkins.