The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a murder mystery that slowly unravels in the mind of an alcoholic prone to blackouts. She can’t remember what happened the fateful night that Megan Hipwell disappeared but something inside of her tells her she knows some deep dark secret hidden in the recesses of her mind.
4 out of 10 stars.
What I liked:
- My father battered my mother for years. He took a confident professional woman and over time completely eroded her independence and sense of self-worth. He took her away from her job, her home, her friends and everyone who knew her, and convinced her that her reality was not real. He convinced her that his reality was real. That he was able to do this over the course of two decades is frightening and she is not alone. What finally saved my mother was that we, the kids, grew up. We saw first hand how he would hit her or hurt her and then convince her she fell or hurt herself. We spoke up and told her it wasn’t so. He had hurt her. And he was still hurting her. Then she finally realized that he’d been brainwashing her for years, convincing her that she couldn’t trust her own mind. And she was raised a devout Christian so she never drank alcohol at all. That depiction of what it’s like to live with an abusive spouse, how easily they can convince you that your reality is not real, and only in your head, is portrayed in this novel very, very well.
- Pervasive in American culture is the idea that women who have women’s bodies are fat. That they are somehow disgusting, unlovable, and unlikable. It has created an entire subculture of women who are cruel to other women. Tiny bird-like women who go out of their way to entice married men away from their wives and children into lurid affairs that often go wrong. One of two things occurs. (1) The man happily ditches his wife and children and marries the young bird. (2) The man realizes that a fling is not love and does not create a lifetime of shared experiences, the thing that bonds him to his wife and children. When #2 occurs, the bird mistress usually cries fowl and threatens the man until something bad happens. She can’t just let it go because it’s not enough to make a man cheat on his family; she has to completely take him away from that woman, that mother, that wife. These women are just as sick as the abusive husbands. In many respects they are worse because they are cruelly abusing other women and convincing men it’s okay to treat those women like trash. They call them fat cows, ugly, unattractive, slovenly, and every nasty four letter word you can come up with, but the truth is they are the ugly ones, inside and out. This novel portrays the lives of two of these little birds and the destruction they create in their wakes. There is a moment at the very end, when Tom is killing Rachel in front of his new wife Anna and she is watching him with complete apathy. It isn’t until he blames her for his affair with Megan and lumps her into the same category as his ex-wife Rachel that she becomes offended and yells at him not to lump her into the same category as “that fat cow” Rachel. :0 These bird-like women, so dainty and thin and half-starved are just as shriveled up on the inside as they are on the outside, aptly portrayed in the characters of Megan and Anna.
What I didn’t like:
- Aristotle and Chekhov would be rolling over in their graves at the way this novel is laid out. The clues to the killer are supposed to be given in the first act, the first third of the novel, but we don’t get the clues we actually need until the last 20 pages, immediately before we find out who the killer is. The first 300 pages of this novel, 98% of the novel, is devoted to Rachel’s alcoholic binges, irrational fears, and trying desperately to figure out what happened to her that night since a blackout has taken all of her memories from her.
- Lies. Early on in the novel we discover that Rachel went to a doctor to find out how to get back the time lost in her blackouts. The doctor told her there was nothing to recover because during an alcoholic blackout the mind can’t form new short-term memories. This is used as a crutch to excuse drunken driving. In fact, the author relates two incidents in which the alcoholics killed entire families during blackouts and then excuses their behavior because it occurred during a blackout. But at the end of the novel she gets back her memories of that night. Well, which is it? How is it she couldn’t form short-term memories but there it is? It’s a cheap shot for an author to tell one very long lie through 98% of a novel and then suddenly in the last 2% to do a 180.
- Everyone in the novel was a bad guy. There are no good guys here, no one to root for. I couldn’t even root for Rachel, the alcoholic, because she left a wake of destruction all around her. Each time someone treated her horribly she went back for more. While I can understand that years of abuse made her this way and that she had zero self-esteem, once she knew Scott was abusive and Tom was abusive, why did she go back to speak with them? Why did she apologize? These are evil men, evil women, and a really pathetic protagonist who spent more time in an alcoholic stupor than actually solving any crime.
- The entire story is told in narrative. There was less than a page of dialogue in the entire 320 pages. It’s also told in four different points of view that jump from one time period to another and then back and forward through the entire novel. You have to keep track of dates to know if you’ve gone backward or forward and it makes it extremely difficult to understand what’s going on. My suggestion, should you choose to read this novel, is read only Megan’s chapters. That’s the entire plot. The rest is fluff.
The girl on the train is Rachel Watson, a thirty-four year-old divorcee who used to live at 23 Blenheim Rd for 5 years when she was married to her ex-husband Tom. They wanted to have a baby and when she couldn’t become pregnant, it ruined the marriage. What really ruined the marriage was that Tom never wanted a child and became extremely abusive to Rachel, so she drowned her sorrows in alcohol. He started an affair with a tiny blonde and eventually kicked Rachel out, moving Anna in, after Anna became pregnant. Rachel and Tom divorced and Anna and Tom married at about the same time they had their daughter Evie. Then Tom started another affair with the tiny blonde Megan who lived two doors down at 15 Blenheim Rd with her abusive husband Scott. Megan also became pregnant and threatened to tell Anna about their affair, so that night Tom took her into the woods and bludgeoned her to death, then buried her body by the railroad tracks. That same night, Rachel came to see Tom in a drunken stupor, to tell him she still loved him. He’s in a hurry, to meet Megan, and so he takes Rachel into the underpass and beats her. She wakes up the following morning all bloodied and beaten with no memory of what happened to her.
Several months previously Rachel lost her job and has been taking the train from Ashbury to London at 8:04 every morning, then back home from London to Ashbury at 5:56 each night. Both ways she passes her old home which is clearly visible from the tracks and along a part of the tracks that needs repair. Quite often, the train stops on those tracks and she gets a good look into Megan’s house, seeing her with her loving husband Scott. Since Rachel doesn’t know their names, she dubs them Jess and Jason. Then one day, it’s not Jason kissing Jess, but a different man, a much darker man. Days later, Jess disappears and Rachel reads about it in the paper. Her name is Megan Hipwell.
Flashback to before Megan’s disappearance to her life. When she was fifteen, her brother Ben died in a motorcycle accident. She ran away and ended up living together with a thirty-five year-old man on the coast. It was bliss but she eventually became pregnant. She didn’t want to be pregnant so she ignored it and then eventually gave birth at the house to a little girl they named Libby. Her boyfriend Craig, would often take off on his own. So she was left at home all alone. On one of these trips, as she’s left home alone, she gets drunk and takes a bath with the baby. She wakes up hours later and the baby is dead floating in the tub. Craig eventually comes home and finds them both cold on the bathroom floor. They bury the baby on the beach and he goes to the store to pick up something. He never comes back. Eventually she leaves and never sees him again. When she turns twenty-three she marries Scott Hipwell, who is abusive. She can’t sleep at night so he insists she see a therapist. She sees Dr. Kamal Abdic, a Serbian refugee. He’s kind, handsome, patient as a saint. They begin an affair and he helps heal her heart. He’s the one Rachel saw kissing Megan. But it’s against ethics for him to be sleeping with a patient, so he ends it. Angry that he’s tossed her aside, and one of those little bird women who is so self-involved she can’t tolerate anyone rejecting her, she calls up her last lover, Tom Watson, and tells him she’s going to tell his wife Anna all about them. She never gets the chance to tell him she’s pregnant because Tom kills her first. It isn’t until her body is found and DNA tests are run that we even learn the baby was Tom’s.
The third main point of view is Anna’s and she’s a real piece of work. A tiny blond bird-like creature she oscillates between suffocating her baby girl Evie and manipulating her husband Tom. She keeps hearing him on the phone in the bathroom with some woman and assumes it’s Rachel which sets her on a vendetta to hurt Rachel every way she can, involving the police and accusing her of stalking her and trying to hurt their baby which is all a lie. He’s really on the phone with Megan. When Anna learns about the affair she doesn’t care, as long as Tom still wants her she doesn’t even care if he killed Megan. When Rachel comes to help her get away before Tom can hurt her or Evie, she instead tells him that Rachel is going to call the police and watches him try to kill Rachel. :0 I really hated her as much as Megan. It isn’t until Rachel stabs him with a corkscrew that Anna gets hold of herself. Then she’s the one who actually kills him, walking over to him very coldly and driving the corkscrew into his throat so deep he dies instantly. Of course she tells the police that Rachel did it. Who are they going to believe, a fat drunk or a cute motherly blonde?
4 out of 10 stars. That’s the entire plot told over 320 very long and boring pages. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to anyone, not even for the way it portrays abusive men and bird women.
Reviewed by Erin.