I just finished reading The Girl on the Train (2015) by Paula Hawkins, and I have to say that I enjoyed the read. It wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever read, nor was it high literature, but it was fun, and just what I needed to take my mind off of dissertation writing and research. I feel as if I haven’t read a novel for pure fun in quite a while, and my turn for The Girl on the Train came from the library at just the right time.
It is a popular book. It has been a bestseller, and it took me a few months to wait for a copy at my local library. I can see why. It is mysterious and thrilling, and the real killer is revealed at the end in a bit of a twist.
However, I did see it coming. I figured out who it was in the first 50 pages or so, although I did not know for sure. I just had a feeling. It was the “least likely” suspect, so of course, you know it has to be that person, because the author doesn’t want you to know that it is that person. And I won’t spoil it for you, so you’ll have to read the book.
For a while, it seemed as if the murderer could be the unreliable protagonist, Rachel who is drunk most of the time and passes her days by riding the train to and from London, pretending to work at a job she was fired from several months earlier. She is unstable, she has blackouts, and she is a bit of a stalker. She’s obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife Anna. Part of the reason she rides the train is to see their house. The train goes right past their house, her old house, and she watches them and wishes she had her old life back. Her husband cheated on her with Anna. She is a lover scorned.
While the mysterious disappearance of another woman, Megan, is what the novel focuses on most intensely, I found most tragic Rachel’s situation. Not the cheating husband or the divorce, but her alcoholism. She has a real problem, and she needs help desperately; however, she can’t seem to get it because she cannot stay sober long enough to stabilize herself and her life. She has a roommate who attempts to help, by being somewhat judgmental and pitying, but Rachel needs professional help. She needs somebody to check her into a hospital or to take her to AA meetings. I guess part of the problem is that when a person is so deep into alcoholism they cannot accept help, nor can anybody make them accept it.
Rachel’s blackouts from drunkenness are also a huge problem. She may have witnessed Megan’s disappearance, but she cannot recall what happened that night. She has also forgotten some of the rotten episodes of her marriage, leading her to idealize her ex-husband and wish for him back, rather than moving on and getting sober. It is a sad downward spiral to watch; however, the book leaves us with hope. It is realistic hope, for we know that Rachel’s sobriety is not permanent, but we see that she is finally trying and committed to getting better and improving her life.
Yes, this novel is a fun, easy, thrilling read. However, it has a deeper meaning about what it means to be an alcoholic, how that can affect a person’s relationships, how somebody can become more vulnerable because of it, and how things aren’t always as they seem; answers don’t always come from a bottle. In the end, I was proud of Rachel for her progress. I was also impressed that the author had given us such a sympathetic yet unreliable narrator, whose experience could serve as a warning.