Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

 

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Psychological thrillers aren’t my usual cup of tea. I enjoyed Gone Girl, but haven’t read any of the other books in that vein that have been released recently. If I’m in the mood for a mystery, I tend to lean towards the Agatha Christie and Alan Bradley side of the spectrum. I stumbled across The Girl on the Train sort of by accident.

I was making plans for an upcoming trip that would take about three hours by car, and I was looking for things to listen to during the drive. I’m a big podcast fan but have never really gotten into audio books. I wish I could. I salivate when I think about the amount of books I could tear through if I listened to them will I cooked dinner, folded laundry, or completed paperwork. But every time I listen to them my mind wanders. By the time I’ve realized this and brought my attention back to the book, I’ve missed several minutes and have to rewind it. It’s just not my brain’s prefered way to soak up a narrative.

Nevertheless, I have a hard time taking no for an answer. Every so often I’ll give another audiobook a try. I’d recently moved to a new county and gotten a library card for a new system, so I explored their Overdrive selection and Girl on the Train was one of the few books that seemed interesting and was available. So, I gave it a try.

Two things came out of that experiment. First, I learned, again, that I’m not an audiobook person. Second, once I got back from my trip, I went to Barnes and Noble and snatched up a paperback copy of The Girl on the Train because I had to see how it ended.

The novel follows a woman named Rachel who is divorced from a husband who cheated on her, has lost her job (but hasn’t told her landlady/roommate) and who is suffering from alcohol addiction. She takes a train every day into London (hence the title) to sit in the library or a bar and kill time so that her landlady doesn’t find out she’s unemployed and kick her out. While on the train, she passes the house she use to live in that now belongs to her ex-husband and his new wife. Another couple lives down the street from the house. Rachel begins to watch the couple every time she passes the house and crafts a story around their lives. In her head, the couple, who she names Jessica and Jess, have a storybook marriage. However, when the train passes by one day and Rachel spies something disturbing going on at their house. Soon after, the woman turns up missing. Rachel feels she must get involved, and from there the novel gets twisty and turny real quick!

I won’t say anything else, but a lot more happens in the novel. I enjoyed the character of Rachel. She’s not a likeable character, and in fact some of her choices had me yelling at the book in that don’t-go-in-the-house-the-killer-is-waiting-for-you sort of way. But her alcoholism is depicted very realistically in the book. I believe that Rachel, for all of her problems, really wanted to help in the situation presented in the novel; however, her drinking problem made it difficult for her to focus or make the best decisions. Throughout the novel, she is caught up in a cycle of drinking, trying to pick herself up, realizing she needed to stop drinking, then drinking again. After a while it began to get redundant and I felt like the author was repeating the same scenario over and over. But then I realized that was the point. Someone suffering from alcoholism does become trapped in that cycle.

While I read the novel, I thought about the state of mental health services in our country, and our “suck it up and power through it” answer to people suffering from mental health issues. I don’t think The Girl on the Train is the best book to depict alcoholism. There are other books that tackle the subject more head on than this novel’s fast-paced thriller plot allows. But the book does let us inside the head of someone suffering from an addiction. It shows us that for people with this problem it’s not as simple as wanting to put down the drink and just trying really hard to not pick it up again. And I think that’s an important narrative to read.

The novel is told in first person from the point of view of Rachel and two other characters. Like I said, audiobooks are not for me, but I did enjoy how each character’s chapters were read by a different narrator in the audiobook version. If you are an audiobook person, I’d recommend it.

I think I’ll check out the move soon and see how it compares to the book.

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