Good evening, dear readers!
August is here now and I believe this is the perfect time to tell you about a book that I have just finished reading: The Girl on the train by Paula Hawkins. This novel is the perfect summer book: easy to read thanks to its free-flowing and lively style, it has a very strong plot that makes it simply unputdownable. I wouldn’t say that The Girl on the train is the masterpiece of the century but it has definitely been the first time that I have enjoyed reading a book so much in a while. And it also made me feel like reading more crime fiction and thrillers. So for now, this book definitely features in my best reads’ list for this year.
I’m sure most of you will already have heard about this book, at least if you live in England. Indeed, this novel has been the “number one bestseller” for a few months in this country. Impossible to miss it if you go to bookshops from time to time, as it has been displayed on the bookseller’s tables for months now. Because the book was so successful, I was of course very curious to read it, and I was also attracted by the laudatory reviews that it received: Stephen King said that it “kept [him] up most of the night”. As for Terry Hayes, he got enthusiastic: “What a group of characters, what a situation, what a book! It’s Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation”. So let me tell you that I was quite impatient to read this novel that made so many people talk.
So, for those who have not heard about the book, here’s a short summary. Rachel commutes to London every day: every morning she takes the 8.04 train from Ashbury, where she lives, to London Euston. She does not work in London anymore; she was fired from her company some months ago because she is an alcoholic, but she has to pretend that she does. Cathy, her live in landlord-friend, should not suspect anything; otherwise, she might fear for the rent and kick Rachel out. So Rachel pretends she is a normal commuter and she actually enjoys her journeys on the train. She likes looking out of the train’s windows at the small houses along the railways. She especially enjoys looking at a house in Witney, a house where, she thinks, the perfect couple lives. She can sometimes see Scott and Megan on their terrace, and she likes imagining what their perfect life looks like. She has never met them of course, only has she seen them from the train, but she knows where they live: they live only a few houses away from her former house, a house where she lived for 4 years with her ex-husband, Tom, whom she still loves. Tom is now living with Anna and their baby, and Rachel is more than jealous of their happiness.
On a Saturday evening, Rachel’s life takes an unexpected turn. As she is once again drunk, alone and desperate, she decides to take the train to Witney. She wants to look at Scott from close, to observe Scott and Megan’s house. The next morning, she gets up hungover, with a bleeding lump on her forehead and no memories at all, except a feeling that something terrible happened the previous night. Two days later, she reads in the newspaper that Megan Hipwell is missing. As she is involved in the police investigation, as a potential witness, days go by and Megan is still missing. Rachel decides she has to help Scott to find out what happened to Megan, and she starts her own investigation…
“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.
The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I lift the can to my mouth again, but there’s not a drop left.”
What I liked about this book is that it manages to maintain a real suspense because all its characters are unpredictable and have their own dark side. There are very few main characters involved in the plot but they all become suspects for us at some point or another in the book. There are a few twists too, of course. The story is told from three viewpoints: Rachel’s, Anna’s and Megan’s. The chapters told from Rachel and Anna’s viewpoint follow the chronological order from July 2013 (month of Megan’s disappearance) until September 2013 while those told from Megan’s viewpoint start one year earlier, from May 2013 until the time when she disappears. This original chronology allows the author to confuse the issue even further. I also liked the fact that most of the chapters are told from Rachel’s point of view because Rachel is a very unreliable narrator that cannot be trusted: she’s an alcoholic and seems to be mentally unstable and weak. Therefore, it’s a character we have a lot of difficulties to understand and trust, and that doesn’t allow us to have a global and omniscient view of the plot. We are tied down to her narrow, incomplete and unsure memories and observations, and this is very interesting.
“I can feel the heat come to my face, my stomach a pit of acid. Yesterday – sensible, clear-headed, right-thinking – I decided I must accept that my part in this story was over. But my better angels lost again, defeated by drink, by the person I am when I drink. Drunk Rachel sees no consequences, she is either excessively expansive and optimistic or wrapped up in hate. She has no past, no future. She exists purely in the moment. Drunk Rachel – wanting to be part of the story, needing a way to persuade Scott to talk to her – she lied. I lied.”
Whether you like crime novels or not especially, I would recommend this book if you are looking for a gripping book that can be read quickly.
See you next week!
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers (2015)