The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is a captivating, and at times depressing, psychological thriller. It is a story about human nature, our need to belong, voyeurism, and how we have become captivated by other people’s lives.
Every day Rachel rides the train to work. Because of a signal error, the train stops at the same place each day, where Rachel indulges in her favorite pastime of watching the couple who live at the house on the other side of the tracks. In her head, Rachel nicknames the couple Jason and Jess and makes up fantasies about who they are and what they do. However, Jason and Jess are not the only people living in an imaginary world because we soon realize that Rachel also lives in a world of make-believe. Rachel isn’t taking the train to work every day, because she is unemployed and is just pretending to work. Combine that with the facts that Rachel is an alcoholic who tends to black-out and that Jason and Jess live on the same street as Rachel’s ex-husband and his new wife, whom Rachel frequently finds herself drunk-dialing, and you have Rachel’s real life.
Everything continues as usual, with Rachel obsessing about the couple and obsessing about her ex-husband’s new family, when Jess suddenly disappears. Rachel wants to help considering that she feels she knows Jason and Jess from watching them from the train, however she soon comes to the conclusion that she is closer to the issue than she thinks. Rachel realizes that she may have witnessed Jess’s disappearance but can’t fully remember what happened that night because she blacked-out after drinking.
Hawkins spins a story of who-did-it and what exactly happened the night Jess disappeared. Told from alternating points of view from Rachel, Jess, and Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, it’s difficult to determine who is telling the truth and who is lying. Every character seems to have secrets and nothing is really as it seems.
All of the characters are all deeply flawed, especially Rachel. Half of the time, you want to yell at her because she’s doing something stupid, and the other half of the time you feel sorry for Rachel because her situation is not all of her own making. Rachel has a lot of things in her past and things in her former marriage that she feels guilty for. She will drink until she blacks out, but then feels guilty about it the next day. Throughout the course of the novel nothing good happens for Rachel so it’s easy to see why she builds these fantasy worlds and wants to be a part of the investigation into Jess’s disappearance.
If you’ve ever wanted to make yourself feel better by reading about people worse off than you, this is the book to read. Seriously. I would not be friends with any of the characters. Except for maybe Rachel’s roommate, but that’s because she seems to never be home (and isn’t that the best kind of roommate)?
To sum it up, I thought The Girl on the Train was a compelling read. Just like when you can’t look away from a car crash, I couldn’t put this book down and I had to continue reading to find out what happened.