A Girl, A Train

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.

51 thoughts on “A Girl, A Train

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  1. You know I seem to have been the only person who didn’t guess the killer, everyone has been telling me they guessed it right in the beginning, but I got it at about the same time as Rachel, I think.

  2. I read this book on the plane home from Seattle in June. Your review is spot on. There were some great twists at the very end, but I didn’t like or care about the missing woman. The real draw is the main character, who is so vulnerable and full of shame and self-loathing and so woefully prone to self-sabotage. Her backstory struck me as the real mystery, and hoping her situation improved or at least didn’t worsen was what kept me turning the pages.

    1. You’re right. I kept reading because I wanted to know her back story. I didn’t really care much about the other woman, although I was curious. I read this on a plane too!

  3. While reading this, every other page I would change my mind about Megan’s disappearance and her possible death. I think that’s why I liked the story so much. It kept me on my toes.

  4. Thanks for a great review. I’m not so sharp with mystery thriller whodunits, so I completely missed the real killer until the end. I absolutely enjoyed reading the novel. The unreliable narrator is difficult to pull off, and I thought Hawkins did a great job with it. But I agree it’s tough following the alcoholic protagonist. I think at one point when the protagonist took “another drink” I had to put the book down for the day and go at it again the next day.

    I’ve known two persons who can be described as hardcore alcoholic. One eventually quit and attended AA, the other I had to get away from. She was destructive. Hawkins does a great job keeping her authorial distance. We witness the world as seen by a drunk. Your remark that she needs professional help is absolutely correct, but the alcoholic never believes that. In most cases, as in the novel, the “friends” are the usual helpless folk: the family, the best bud from high school or college, so forth and so on, but none of them has the time, energy or expertise to manage the boozer.

    Oh, and that final scene was incredible. It was almost as if one were watching a strange and awkward drama, except that these were adults and murder was the game.

    1. Yes! You describe the final scene and the issues with alcoholism perfectly. It was hard to see the character be so self destructive, but as what was really going on was uncovered, it began to make a little more sense.

  5. Yes, poor Rachel needed help. I hadn’t really considered that Rachel’s addictive behaviors could serve as a warning…I like that thought! And, yes, having dealt with alcoholics throughout my lifetime and watching two of them literally drink themselves to death before the age of 50, no one can help them until they choose to help themselves. It is heartbreaking, but true… 😦 However, for those who do choose to quit and succeed, it is something to celebrate! Although this wasn’t one of my favorites, it will be interesting to see what future publications she may release…

    1. Yeah, I’m interested in reading more of Hawkins’s work. It was a thrilling read, if hard because of the subject matter. But I liked that it was a thriller that tackled some serious issues.

      1. Where is Hercule Poirot when you need him? I was thinking of the movie Strangers on a Train, as well, and numerous movies, books and TV shows, where some of the intrigue happens on a train, even Harry Potter, no less.

  6. Nice review- I’m right there with you! Wasn’t the best I’ve ever read in my life, but man I really enjoyed reading it! I read it in the airport while on layover and I was on the edge of the airport seat!

  7. I just finished this book about a month ago and I loved it. I agree with you that it wasn’t the best written book (there were parts of the book where the writing sort of fell apart, as if the writer got tired of writing). However, I was still drawn to the story, and I was waiting for Rachel to get her life together. For some reason I was rooting for her.

    1. Me too. It was a strange feeling to want her to succeed, when all signs pointed to her being so so messed up and not worthy of redemption. I’m glad she was!

  8. I enjoyed this book due to the fact that it was written as journal entries instead of just a basic story, it added a appeal for the readers to feel more connected with the characters.

  9. I was hesitant to read this book. For some reason, I was under the impression it would be a very suspenseful / scary read – which I have a difficult time reading (or should I say falling asleep!) But after reading your review, I am totally reconsidering and adding this book to my must-read list! Thanks 🙂

  10. I agree with your assessment of the book. For me as a writer, part of the fun was in seeing how the author depicted the unreliable narrators. (I guessed the murderer also, though it took me more than 50 pages!)

  11. This book was already on my to-read-list, but your article made me change it into a priority !! It’s been a while since I haven’t read thrillers so It’ll be a nice reunion ! And the deeper material about alcoholism that you noticed makes it even more interesting to read ! I will see if I can guess the murderer as quickly as you did 😉 Great article by the way 🙂

  12. I have seen this book everywhere, but haven’t gotten to it yet. My book club is reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It was recommended to my friend as being better than The Girl on the Train. I haven’t started it yet, however, so I know nothing. I guess that means I will have to read both!

  13. Hi Emily! I had high hopes for this book but sadly, I had to drag myself to finish it. People were raving about how Hawkins was the next Gillian Flynn but I didn’t enjoy it very much. 😦

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