by Paula Hawkins
Mystery/thrillers featuring dysfunctional women and broken marriages seem to have become the new “it” genre with the publication and instant success of Gone Girl a few years back. And, indeed, The Girl On the Train has been compared to Gone Girl.
The Girl On the Train is Rachel, a lonely, unemployed, divorced alcoholic barely holding it together. She still pines for Tom, the husband who left her for another woman and who is now living in her old house with his new wife and baby daughter. Rachel rides the train to and from London every day, keeping up the charade of going to a job she no longer has thanks to her drinking problem in an attempt to keep the friend from whom she rents a room from discovering that she is jobless. Her ride into London each day takes her right past her old house where some of the happiest, and then saddest times of her life were lived, and where her ex-husband lives with his new family. Each morning, the train stops at a train signal, giving Rachel a clear view of the row of houses, and she begins to focus on a neighbor’s house where a young couple live. She often sees the two of them out on their terrace together, and she creates a fantasy existence for them. She becomes so invested in this fantasy of a perfect marriage that she is completely shaken when one day, she witnesses the young wife kissing a man who is not her husband. Soon after Rachel witnesses this incident from her seat on the train, the young wife disappears, and Rachel is tormented by foggy, sinister scraps of memory that she can’t quite grab hold of. She was drunk the night the woman, Megan, disappeared, and she has vague memories of being involved in a violent altercation, of coming to with blood on her hands. She becomes sure that the man she saw Megan kissing before she disappeared must have something to do with Megan’s disappearance … and she’s also terrified that she was somehow involved in Megan’s disappearance. Alcoholic blackouts are nothing new to her. The more Rachel involves herself in the mystery of Megan’s disappearance, the more nothing turns out to be what it appears to be.
Alternately narrated by Rachel, Megan before her disappearance, and Anna, the woman whom Rachel’s husband Tom left her for, the reader is given each woman’s back story and perspective, constructing a multi-layered story. As we see the traumas suffered (and inflicted), the emergence of addiction, self-destructive and self-defeating behavior begins to make sense. Grief, misogyny, and domestic abuse are just a few all too common themes from real life that drive the plot of this mystery.
I enjoyed this fast-paced novel, although Rachel’s repeated alcoholic relapses were hard to read. I wanted to root for her, and even to like her, but I never quite got there. Also, I read somewhere that one of the best sex scenes ever written is in this book, and I kept looking for it and never did find it.
So what happened to Megan? The ending may surprise you.