Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainI read Gone Girl recently, so The Girl on the Train seemed like the next logical step, given how often people compare them.  Having finished it, I can see why they do--but also feel like the comparison doesn't really do either book justice, as they're not really similar in a larger sense.  Both feature people behaving badly and narrators who could be classified as unreliable--but whereas a narrator in Gone Girl is intentionally unreliable, none of the narrators in The Girl on the Train are intentionally misleading.  The bad behaviors are similar in part--you know, murder, adultery, mental and emotional manipulation, the usual--but are set up in such a different context that they work into the story very differently.  The Girl on the Train also seemed to move faster, to me--maybe because all of the characters become involved so early on, while in Gone Girl things just keep coming up slowly.

Anyway.  The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, who is pretty much a hot mess.  She's an unemployed alcoholic (and yes, the two are related) who has been in a sort of limbo ever since she and her husband divorced two years ago.  Well, really the mess of her life started earlier than that, when they tried to have a kid and couldn't, sending Rachel into a spiral that ended in their divorce.  She has a roommate now, and to hide her unemployment she still takes the train into London every day.  On the way, she looks at the houses by the tracks, particularly one a few doors down from where she used to live so that she can see the couple she has deemed "Jason" and "Jess," who she imagines to be wildly in love with each other--until she sees Jess with another man.  Several days later, news comes out that a woman has gone missing, and by her picture Rachel immediately realizes it's Jess.  She gets swept up in the drama of the entire investigation, hooked by her imaginings of Jason and Jess' life together, even though she knows that those aren't really their names and that their lives were really nothing like she pictured in her head. 

Out of all the characters in this book, Rachel is the only good one.  Yes, she is an alcoholic--but her life is pretty shit, so that's pretty understandable, and as the story goes on she tries to improve herself.  The other characters (well, with the exception of a few supporting folk, like Rachel's roommate and the guy on the train) are all abusive, manipulative, and cheaters, in various combinations of those characteristics.  This made it very easy to root for Rachel, to want her to figure it all out and improve her own life into the bargain, though the logic of how that would, exactly, tie in is somewhat missing.  On the other hand, it's hard to want to root for a character who wants to "get rid of the bitch once and for all" or who spends her time having a string of affairs or any number of other poor behaviors exhibited by the people in this novel.

The mystery is intriguing because there are so many different possibilities for who killed Jess/Megan, and to some degree all of them make sense.  As the layers of the story get pulled back, everything becomes more and more tangled, more and more twisted, until the big reveal and the climax.

I think I liked this more than Gone Girl, overall; it wasn't as long, it moved faster, and I found the characters more intriguing on the whole than those in Gone Girl.  And Rachel was a much more relatable protagonist than Nick, who I never really liked because of the shitty choices he made.  Rachel made shitty choices, too, but not like Nick did.  And come on--Girl on the Train is British, which just makes absolutely everything sound so much more posh and sophisticated, don't you think?  Sure, the logic of "woman solves mystery and therefore improves her own life" isn't entirely there, but that's not really the point of the genre, and so I'm willing to give it a pass on that one.  I loved this, and heartily recommend it.  Also, it can count for the Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge category of "A book being made into a movie this year."  Yay!

5 stars!

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