Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The theme of unreliable narrators in popular fiction continues in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The novel has held the top spot on the New York Times list for 12 weeks and rightly so. It was a page-turner, psychological thriller, and mystery rolled into one. 

The novel is narrated by three women - Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who travels daily on the train from Ashbury to London every day, divorced from Tom Watson; Anna Watson, Tom's new wife and mother to his child, Evie; and Megan Hipwell, a former art gallery owner and nanny to Evie. As Rachel rides the train everyday she becomes immersed in a fantasy world as she passes the same houses and people on her commute, including the home of Megan and her husband Scott whom she names Jess and Jason. But then Megan disappears and all the characters are entwined in an eddy of conflicting facts and circumstances.

The narration shifts back and forth among the women and perplexes the reader as to what is real, what is imagined, and what is less than accurate. It reveals deceptions and interrelationships that are frightening and abusive. Back stories are brought to light and illuminate some of the motivation for actions of the players. In our book club discussion, one member likened the novel to a Hitchcock move, especially Rear Window. Hawkins also creates a bit of confusion with the timing of each woman's narration. In one chapter Megan is present and narrating only to be followed a few chapters later as a missing person. It is a technique that can be a bit perplexing, but effective in the way that it intensifies the narrative. In the end, all the characters are suspect and the reveal and resolution are startling and unpredictable.

The Girl on the Train has been compared to Gone Girl for the psychological manipulation of the reader. Like Gone Girl  it will be a successful move. But read the book first. It is not to disappoint.

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