The Girl on a Train

Happy International Women’s Day!

I hope you are having a great weekend. Monday is coming around too quickly for my liking and seems to be bringing grey weather with it just to top off that bundle of joy… But let’s move on from that, shall we?

9780857522313My working week underwent a major change in 2015 when I decided that instead of living across the road from the office in Harpenden (approx 20 second commute), I would rather live in London and commit to a significantly lengthier journey of a 30 min walk, a 25 min train ride and another 20 min walk. And yes, you guessed it, do it all again in reverse at the end of the day. That’s almost THREE hours of my day spent travelling (and don’t get me started on the expense). But that’s also a good 50 minutes of reading time – let’s be optimistic. So when The Girl on the Train was published this January, I knew I had to get my hands on it. One cannot turn down such an apt book to while away train time, especially when it’s billed as the next Gone Girl. Nothing beats a great thriller as you join the masses rocking gently to the rhythm of the locomotive…

I was delighted when Alison Barrow answered my, slightly desperate, plea to get this book through my door. Even more so when that satisfying weighty thud on the doormat reaches your ears on your BIRTHDAY. Excellent timing. It went to the top of my reading list and with extremely high expectations (have you seen all those reviews?!) I raced through its pages. In fact, I read it so fast that it never made it to a train journey, ironically. The only reason it joined me on the train was to pass it on to an equally keen colleague, who similarly devoured it (stationary).

The Girl on the Train is, undoubtedly, a gripping read. People love reading about flawed people. Especially flawed people trying to do good, but in the process seriously messing up on multiple occasions. As thrilling as the subject matter may be, it simultaneously acts as a soothing pat on the back, a calm voice saying: ‘see, everyone makes mistakes. Don’t worry, you’re not as bad as this’ and the like. So when we meet Rachel, all alone and cracking open the can of G&T on the train, we’re already intrigued to see where the story is going. Though her reliability is immediately called into question, and is repeatedly exposed throughout the novel, you warm to her and feel that behind her mistakes, her obsessive traits and those moments where you’re tearing your hair out because you cannot believe she is pursuing certain theories… yes, underneath all that she has good intentions at heart and you trust her. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I found her a likeable character. In fact, I’m not sure I liked any of the characters, but I became as addicted to them as Rachel is to her drink.

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel she travels on the 8:04 from Ashbury to Euston. More often than not, the train stops outside a row of Victorian houses. But where some may have found this an infuriating trait (I, for one, have very little patience when it comes to delays), Rachel has come to relish these moments, carving out her own story for ‘Jason’ and ‘Jess’, the golden couple who live at 15 Blenheim Road and who she espies nearly every morning. But the perfect life she envisioned in this house soon loses its golden hue when Rachel sees something that radically alters her perspective. And when ‘Jess’, or rather, Megan, goes missing, Rachel breaks all boundaries to become a real part of their lives.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced read, one that draws you down one avenue only to reveal another, then this is the book for you. As I mentioned, the characters are not likeable. I found myself getting quite irritated by some of their tropes and it seemed slightly unrealistic that nearly every one had a really messed up past (there are people out there who have had a happily uneventful life who would balance things up a bit), but this book does not seek out the ordinary – Paula Hawkins will have you second-guessing every theory you have. I did not have to wait until the final reveal to guess what was coming – with quite a limited selection of characters, there are only so many people to choose from to blame for Megan’s disappearance… but until this point, the mix of Rachel’s unreliability and everyone’s tendency to withhold the complete truth kept me changing my mind repeatedly in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

Some people say that they’ve never read a better thriller, others say authors of the same genre have a lot to beat. It’s already been proven through its mass of rave reviews and impressive sales figures that The Girl on the Train has made its mark but I’d say it’s far from perfect – give me a book with an equally original and intriguing premise  but with a greater and more diverse range of characters that challenges me with its complexity and I’d say you’ve got a worthy rival. Anyone have that book to hand…?

– Franny

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