Friday, April 24, 2015

Contemporary Fiction: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

When The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was consistently compared to Gone Girl, I was naturally hesitant, because I didn't like Gone Girl. But then I read reviews from people who clarified that this new suspense/thriller novel was similar to Gone Girl in that it has many twists and turns and is incredibly suspenseful, and that is something I could get behind. So, with still quite a bit of hesitation, I decided to try it out.

The Situation: Rachel takes the same train into town everyday, that makes the same stops, allowing her to look at the same houses and observe the same people. The perfect couple, Jess and Jason, live just a few houses down from where Rachel used to live before her life fell apart not too long ago. But that would never happen to Jess and Jason, Rachel has decided. Having observed them from the train for quite awhile now, she not only has given them imaginary names, but also imaginary jobs, personalities, hobbies, everything. She imagines that they have the life she ruined, by wanting something she can't have so badly that she began to drink, heavily. And even though her ex-husband, Tom,  has moved on and remarried, that doesn't stop Rachel from sending drunken emails and text messages, calling the house, and even coming by the neighborhood. So while her life remains far from perfect, and seems to get a little further away from perfect with each passing day, Rachel imagines that Jess and Jason have what she has lost.

The Problem: One day Jess, whose real name is Megan, goes missing, and it is all over the news. This would shatter Rachel's perfect image of the couple whose house she could always see from the trains, except that image was already damaged when she saw Megan in the house not too long ago, kissing a man that wasn't Scott, her husband. And if Rachel's behavior was not already erratic and embarrassing enough, her obsession with her imaginary couple brings her to the attention of the police, whom she contacts when she feels they need to know about the other man. It's bad enough that Anna, Tom's new wife, has wanted to take legal action against Rachel for some time, hopefully getting her out of their lives for good. But now she is also seemingly involved with the awful disappearance of Megan, who lived just a few houses down. As Rachel fights her alcoholism, she also willingly entangles herself in an investigation that has nothing to do with her. At worst, it will be her most public embarrassment and shaming yet. But at best, she may find out what really happened to Megan, what it has to do with her current situation, and what really happened the night she went missing.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a suspense/thriller novel set in and near London around late 2012 to summer 2013. For the most part, the novel centers around five people: Rachel; her ex-husband Tom; his new wife Anna; Megan, the woman who goes missing; and Scott, her husband. At first the book starts with Rachel telling the story. If there were ever an unreliable narrator, it would be this woman. Sometimes she drinks so much that she doesn't remember the horrible things she did the next day, so other people have to tell her. But the book also switches to Megan's story once in a while, up until the day she goes missing. At first it would seem that the story would be a little clearer coming from her, but that proves to not be true, especially when she begins having an affair with her therapist. And then there is Anna's side of the story. For the reader, she is the last remaining hope for any sort or sanity, but believing even her poses a problem as she pretty much delights in the fact that she stole Tom from Rachel and loved being a mistress, even before she realized that her husband's previous marriage was in a bad place. The entire novel comes from three incredibly broken women whose issues shine through how they tell of the events happening around them. But even with these shifting perspectives, one thing that always stays constant is the train that passes by the houses. It is the train that Rachel takes into town everyday, despite having lost her job months ago and really having nowhere to go. Anna hates living by the tracks, not only because of the noise, but also because she is living in the house Tom shared with Rachel. And it is the view from this train that will allow Rachel to see into Megan and Scott's lives. If she wasn't able to see them from a distance everyday and decided in her head what their lives must be like, she most likely would have never gotten involved once Megan turned up missing.

My Verdict: I'll just go ahead and say that I enjoyed this book so much more than I did Gone Girl. I make no pretense about not liking that book, especially the ending. However, my dislike of it actually started before the ending as it took a turn about 1/3 of the way through that I knew it would never recover from, and it didn't. For me, The Girl on the Train is just a better story with better pacing and a better mystery to solve. The characters are still painfully terrible people. At one point I wasn't anxious about the story at all because everyone deserved to have something happen to them at some point. Rachel specifically is one of the most frustrating narrators I have encountered in a long time (although Scarlett O'Hara still takes the top spot). She could barely stay sober long enough to follow through with anything effectively. And even when she was sober, she would do stupid things or say stupid stuff that most people with any amount of common sense could realize would only make the current situation worse. And really, Megan and Anna weren't much different. But even with the terrible characters, I found myself enjoying the book all the way through. It does have the twists and turns that everyone said it did, but they are well done and tied together beautifully.

Favorite Moment: When there begin to be hints that Anna's world isn't as perfect as it seems.

Favorite Character: None. No one. Everyone is awful and people are the worst.

Recommended Reading: I won't say Gone Girl, because I could never recommend Gone Girl. So instead I'll recommend Night Film by Marisha Pessl, although it is more on the haunting and scary side, as opposed to being a suspenseful thriller.   

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