The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins pic

English first time novelist: Paula Hawkins


When a friend gave me this book to read he said, “This is the best book I’ve read in ages.” I know what he means.

However Jacqueline Rose in The London Review of Books September 10, 2015 wasn’t keen to read it, having just read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl “… but I read on anyway, wanting to know more or less from page one why such hatred of women would be so popular.” I know what she means.

The Girl on The Train is about three women, Rachel (the girl on the train), Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, and Megan, a neighbour. All, one or two of them, are self-delusional, unemployed, unemployable, fat, barren, alcoholic, promiscuous, neglectful, possessive, lazy, a bad liar, vain, unwashed, treacherous, adulterous, stupid, flirtatious, misguided, bored, interfering, paranoid, insane, obsessive and one of them becomes a corpse. Collectively they exhibit the above attributes in the never-ending pursuit, entrapment of, and submission to men with the oft-stated, but never achieved, goal of happiness. Even Cathy, sane Cathy, Rachel’s long-suffering flat-mate has been dating her goal, Damien, for over two years without once being invited to meet his mother. We never meet Damien but the other men, real men, the ones these women are fixated on aren’t much better: Tom, Anna’s husband and Rachel’s ex; Scott, Megan’s husband; and Kamal Abdic, a ex-refugee and therapist. Their common attributes are handsome, sexy, successful and only one of them is a liar. If you only like reading books about nice people don’t read this book.

However I find Jacqueline Rose’s profiling of women, based on these characters, going way too far. These characters say more about the writer, Paula Hawkins, than about women in general; and anyway profiling is so unPC. If a woman wants to write about dysfunctional women searching for salvation amidst functional men she can.

But, hey! It’s a thriller, a fiction, an entertainment (it’s soon to be a movie) and a great way to spend a hot lazy humid weekend by the pool or under a fan.

What is interesting about this story is the way Hawkins tells it. She uses three first person narratives usually, but not always, in the present tense to tell the story, like diary entries. They are immediate, engaging and at times enthralling. Each section is headed with a woman’s name (Rachel, Megan or Anna), the time, day, date, and year. Keep track of these: note them.  This confessional flavour is attractive in a personal gossipy sense that we all, let’s face it, enjoy. Hawkin’s characters don’t hold back: we hear all about their dreams, fears, desires, failures, fantasies, bad decisions, flights of delusion, lies, and bad bodily maintenance practices. If you are deluded by what they tell you they are deluding themselves as well. Keep this in mind.

Occasionally towards the end you can sense the plot-cogs turning: an authorial problem, and there’s a little soapy taste about the love-hate-love machinations in the minds of the women but it’s a great summer read.

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