Book Review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

It seemed fitting that the protagonist of The Girl on the Train would be a train wreck. Rachel Watson couldn’t hold a job, drank chronically and harassed her ex-husband’s new family. And then there were her bad qualities. As if all this didn’t keep Rachel occupied she found herself drawn into an intriguing murder mystery. While no Miss Marple, she became the key investigator in determining Megan Hipwell’s killer.

Paula Hawkins crafted Rachel like a character out of an Alfred Hitchcock film. After getting fired because of her drinking, every day she still rode the same train she took to work. She did so in order to make her landlord think she still had a job. At one of the stops she could see into a young couple’s yard. She found herself drawn to the pair; even to the point of giving them imaginary names. (I mentioned Rachel had ‘issues’, correct?) They reminded her of the early days of her defunct marriage. “They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be,” Rachel observed. (Loc 177)

Then Rachel read an article in the paper that the woman, Megan Hipwell, had disappeared. The couple happened to live a few doors down from where Rachel’s husband Tom resided with his new wife and their infant daughter. To add to the intrigue Megan went missing on a night Rachel had one of her drunken confrontations with her ex-husband on the same street! Unfortunately, she blacked out following the encounter. Even more unfortunately for the missing woman, Megan turned up dead.

Ms. Hawkins did an exceptional job choosing such an unreliable narrator to serve as a sleuth. As I read I wondered if Rachel would end up incarcerated for her continued harassment of Tom and his family. I also pondered what other drunken hijinks she’d get into next. I liked how she struggled with her demons. As the story progressed she steadily learned to control them enough to focus on finding Megan’s assailant. I didn’t expect to encounter a protagonist this complex in a murder mystery. I applaud the author’s proficiency with the character’s development.

This will sound like a strange comparison, but this book reminded me a bit of Kenzaburo Oe’s novel A Personal Matter.  I loved the first three quarters of it. The protagonist and suspense really engaged me. Then the book degenerated into cliché. The end section failed to maintain the high level of writing. The events leading to Rachel’s recollection of the events during her blackout seemed contrived. Out of respect for those who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t reveal the killer’s identity. I will comment that the culprit possessed a narcissistic personality with sociopathic tendencies. The murderer believed himself or herself smarter than everyone else. Doesn’t that describe any villain from any murder mystery ever written? The climactic life-or-death fight at the end bored me. While it contained a lot of action I thought it weak and predictable.

The originality of the story’s protagonist made The Girl on the Train a worthwhile read. I have to admit there were times when I really didn’t care about the killer’s identity. I was more curious to discover what Rachel would do next. The ending made the story much too cliché for my taste. It made me want to take up Rachel’s favorite pastime. For me the real mystery was why I didn’t stop reading 75% of the way through.

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