Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

I picked up Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl On The Train” for just one reason – for the last several weeks, I have seen the book perched on top of the NY Times Bestsellers list (Fiction). Lately, my reading has gone down significantly. Some of it can be attributed to paucity of time, but the bigger reason, I hypothesize, is a distracted head-space. Sometimes, I believe, reading fast paced fiction helps you get back in the groove. And TGOTT seemed to fit the bill. Also, I had seen a rather interesting promo image sometime back – of several ladies sitting side by side on a subway train reading ‘the girl on the train’.

TGOTT

Image Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/01/28/american-sniper-the-girl-on-the-train-usa-today-best-selling-books-list/22464365/

 

Rachel, the girl on the train, loves looking out of the window and weaving stories about what she sees. She gives names to people, imagines stories about stranded items like clothes or shoes, and obsesses over them. She is a divorced alcoholic with severe depression and confidence issues, who cannot seem to get over her broken marriage, and just cannot get her life back together. She is the central protagonist. Most of the chapters have been written from her perspective. The male characters in the book don’t get chapters of their own. The other two girls of the story are Anna – the new wife of Tom, and Jess/ Megan – a girl Rachel has seen many times from the train’s window. Tom is Rachel’s ex-husband. And Scott is Megan’s husband. Kamal Abdic is Megan’s therapist. With this much, here is a poll for you to consider – Column A is the murdered. And Column B is the murderer. Take a guess.

Victim Perpetrator
Rachel Rachel
Megan Megan
Anna Anna
Tom Tom
Scott Scott
Kamal Kamal
Some other person briefly mentioned Some other person briefly mentioned

TGOTT excels at its broader plot contours. It delivers a taut murder mystery. The book works well as a single session race to the finish. It uses the standard narrative of a shifting timeline and multiple vantage points to create a sense of darkness, foreboding, and suspense. More often than not, it succeeds. Paula has created a book which is ready to be adapted into a movie (and Emily Blunt will be starring as Rachel). All the right elements. But it is no “Gone Girl”. It neither has characters so grey or flawed, nor a suspense so riveting. Moreover, the central characters are not “that” smart. Megan is a bored seductress, Rachel is a broken alcoholic, Anna is an insecure home-maker and a new mother, Scott an overbearing masochistic husband, Kamal a flawed therapist, and Tom is the ex-husband who doesn’t like anyone touching his phone or laptop. The darkness that permeates that entire narrative of Gone Girl is missing here, save for the end where you see the untapped potential of some of these characters.

Let’s revisit the poll with the additional information I just threw at you. Has your opinion changed?

TGOTT’s problem for me was its predictability. The victim’s too obvious, and so is the perpetrator. The haste in introducing the suspects, and the choice of crime scene makes it a little too obvious. The decoys and breadcrumbs are not the most engaging. Yet, the storytelling is gripping. I envy (and respect) people who can write such engaging stuff.

TGOTT’s other problem is the long drawn moping of Rachel. The continuously repeating montage of her getting drunk, reprimanding herself, and the wine and the gin and the tonic stops serving its purpose beyond a point, unless you are too absorbed to notice the conflict that is established in each such cycle. In the end you might just say – oh yea! remember that?

All in all – It’s a middle of the road – 6 on 10 – kinda thriller. I enjoyed it. I would not, though, go out of my way to recommend it. I won’t diss it either.

In a world where “The Girl On The Train” by Paula Hawkins is a long standing NY Times Bestseller #1 (Fiction), I worry about the quality and quantity of what is being read at large. Am I being extremely critical of the book? No. I definitely do not want to. Do I think the book is an undeserving bestseller? Not at all. It probably is the best thing visible on the shelf right now. My problem – the #1 for weeks should have been a little less obvious.

The novel has quite a few loose ends, which I hope get resolved some day. Someone once told me that to be a good writer, the need to be a good storyteller is way higher than the need to have a good story. So there! More power to Paula, because I do believe that the survivors of this novel can come together for another twist in the tale.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

One Response to Book Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

  1. I really enjoyed reading this a few months ago:)

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