The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, review by Shirley Wells
A thriller with an unreliable narrator can keep its reader guessing right up to the end. Combine this with Hitchcockian imagery (think Rear Window) and psychological memory loss (add Marnie), and you have Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.
Who hasn't looked at a house and wondered about the lives of the people inside? Megan, the primary narrator, not only wonders about the lives of the couple whose house she sees twice daily from her commute, she imagines a whole life for them, including imaginary names. To her, this couple represents the perfect relationship she once had—or thought she had—before her marriage went wrong.
But when Megan sees the wife kissing a man who is not her husband, her perception of their world starts to crumble. And when she learns that this same wife has gone missing and then is later found dead, she knows she has information that she needs to share with the police. But Megan's bad habit of passing out drunk and having no memory of previous events makes all those around her doubt her veracity. Still, she pursues the truth—of the fate of the imaginary couple and of the demise of her own marriage.
Alternating points of view between three women whose lives collide in irrevocable ways, the novel reveals unknown aspects of each character's inner life, aspects that change our initial impressions. The main character Rachel struggles with alcoholism and loss. She is obsessed with her ex-husband Tom and his new wife. She struggles to build a different life for herself but relapses again and again. The compulsively-unfaithful Megan, whose life seems picture perfect (especially as viewed from a train window), can be charming but is hiding a complicated past that her husband Scott is unaware of until it is too late. And Anna, the new wife of Rachel's ex, fears the unpredictable Rachel is spoiling her cookie-cutter family while also missing the excitement of being the fun, sexy mistress who “won” the house and husband.
The Girl on the Train is fast-paced, suspenseful, and cleverly plotted; it's hard to put this book down! But what makes it more than just a thrill ride is its exploration of memory and imagination and how each can become confused when we are blind to the realities of the world around us.