Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel lost her job because she's a lush and she got drunk and embarrassed herself in front of one of her firm's clients. Like Michael Douglas in the 90's classic Falling Down she still pretends to go to work every day on the train because she can't think of what else to do. She commutes to London every morning on the 8.04 from a suburban town drinking wine from a paper cup. When she gets to London she's toasted and she spends the day in libraries or parks, sleeping and drinking before getting the train home again. She's the despair of her flatmate Cathy who wishes she would get her act together. Riding the train every morning Rachel imagines the lives of the families she sees whose houses back onto the track. One beautiful couple, Scott and Meghan particularly intrigue her, but then Meghan goes missing....
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The Girl on the Train has been a runaway, er, locomotive of a success. I can see why. It's got a taut little mystery and its a psychological thriller with an untrustworthy narrator and a nice shift of perspective to other female protagonists: the missing woman Meghan and Rachel's exhusband's new wife Anna. Along the way we find out why Rachel started drinking in the first place (she couldn't get pregnant and her marriage collapsed) and I liked the idea that the story is told through the perspectives of three women none of whom we can completely believe (I love unreliable narrators) and none of whom have the whole truth. 
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What I don't like about TGOTT is that the entire book turns on two tropes that I am very leery about: amnesia and coincidence. Amnesia and coincidence are so played out as concepts that I never recommend them when I'm teaching at a workshop or talking to students. Coincidence that turns a wheel of the plot in a crime novel makes my head physically hurt and amnesia seems best suited to soap operas. As The Girl On The Train's sales reach the 3 million mark this - again - is why you should never listen to me for writerly advice.