The Girl on the Train is about an alcoholic divorcee who rides a train everyday from her rented bedroom to London to pretend that she’s still employed and to stalk a couple living in a house beside the tracks for some pitiful reason of giving them an imaginary, but romantic background.
The protagonist is Rachel Watson, who religiously rides the 8:04 train to London from Monday to Friday. She snacks on 3 cans of premixed gin and tonic and sits on her favorite seat by the window so she can stare at the houses passing by, including her former conjugal abode and one that looks like it in the same block. In that house lives Megan and Scott, whose domestic lives are as plain and uninteresting as the other couple in the story, Rachel’s ex-husband and second wife, Tom and Anna Watson.
Let me say outright that I have read better crime novels than this, where the plot unfolds spontaneously, the characters more emotionally complex but capable of inspiring sympathy, and the narration is less laborious and more creative. Still, Paula Hawkins has something to celebrate because she created characters whose emotional instability is the very thing that makes the reader to want to turn the page until the end. It is not my thing, though, because I find that it limits the story to the psychosis of the characters. After spending too much time in one’s head, one must still relate to the world in a way that reflects what he has already resolved inside himself. In this novel, the characters do not have that quiet confidence and assurance about themselves, making their behavior erratic or misguided at best, illogical, or just plain crazy, considering that only the protagonist in this novel is the one abusing alcohol.
The themes of jealousy and adultery are also superficially portrayed in this novel. Is need for attention the only reason to attract a lover outside of marriage? Is that really how Hawkins see unhappily married people? Are they all acting like teenagers who can’t cope with being in an adult relationship? Are they just really unlucky to marry an occasionally abusive husband or a pathological liar? What was it really about Rachel and Tom that got them in trouble in the first place? It can’t just be about the drinking or the lying. There is always a deeper reason why relationships break down and unfortunately, Hawkins missed that mark, that understanding that is so essential in character development.
There is also much to be said about the style of writing. Just like the author, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Hawkins had to write about every mundane detail, leaving nothing to the imagination. This is not the worst that a published author can commit. However, it can spoil the reading pleasure if you have to read a character saying to the protagonist that she should blow her nose. Definitely, careful editing could have made the composition more tight and solid. It makes me wonder: don’t publishers anymore hire good editors these days?
Overall, I have no sympathy for the characters in this novel because of their lack of depth and inexplicable fragility, but this is still an entertaining read if you’re at all curious about the point of view of a stubborn alcoholic who could or could not have committed a crime. But if you’re planning to buy a copy of this novel, save it for something better like the classic In Cold Blood or something more current like Gone Girl.