Very seldom does a novel portray its female protagonist as a flawed character, but author Paula Hawkins has managed to demonstrate the shortcomings of all three main females depicted in “The Girl on the Train.” Again, females are not usually the subject of stories that are labeled thrillers, suspenseful, or cliffhangers. It is a treat to examine the psychological failings of the main characters against a background which keeps us awake at night to read one more chapter.
This novel continues to get rave reviews and has been first or second on the New York Times Best Seller List longer than any other novel. It will soon be seen as a motion picture with Emily Blunt in the starring role of Rachel Watson. Although the author has set her novel in England, the movie will have the characters living in upstate New York.
The Main Characters are Female
The tale is presented to us in the first person, as told by three women - Rachel, Anna, and Megan. It is really Rachel’s story, and she is not afraid to let us see her true self, warts and all.
For Rachel is an alcoholic, which caused her to lose her job as well as her husband, with whom she is still in love. She has managed to rent a room in the home of an old acquaintance, Cathy, and is fearful of telling Cathy that she has lost her job. She therefore gets up each day and takes the train into London, leaving Cathy unaware that Rachel’s circumstances have changed drastically.
At a specific stop on the train each morning, Rachel is able to follow the daily happenings of a lovely couple which she has named Jess and Jason. Their life reminds her of the idyllic life that she and her husband Tom lived prior to their divorce. She has never met Jess and Jason, but they live just a few doors down from where Rachel and Tom lived, in the same neighborhood. Tom still lives in the house, and has acquired a new wife, Anna, and a new baby girl.
The Plot Thickens
So it is that Rachel is startled on one particular morning when she spots from her seat on the train that “Jess” is standing on the patio kissing someone who is not “Jason.” The incident disturbs her to the point that she becomes intoxicated that evening and attempts to see Tom at his home. Both Tom and Anna are exasperated with Rachel, who phones Tom, sends Emails, and knocks on their door on a regular basis, particularly if she has been drinking. In her stupor the next morning, she notices a bump on her head and blood on her face, but cannot remember anything that happened the night before.
The newspaper that morning reports that a young wife named Megan Hipwell (who is Rachel’s “Jess”) is missing. Megan has a checkered past herself, a prostitute life, unfaithfulness to her husband, and the tragedy of the death of her baby girl as Megan fell asleep in the bathtub while holding the baby in her arms. The newspaper refers to her husband as Scott, whom we and Rachel know as “Justin.” Megan was seeing a therapist called Kamal, with whom she had become enamored. When Megan’s body is found, Kamal is under suspicion, but his involvement cannot be proven.
Rachel sought out Scott and pretended that she was a friend of Megan in order to secure his confidence. She related to him the kissing incident on the patio, indicating that it was Kamal whom she saw with Megan.
The story comes full circle when we learn that Megan, who lived down the street from Tom and Anna, nannied for the couple’s baby girl. This opens up a whole new sub-plot for us to ponder.
Each chapter leaves us with a cliffhanger, wondering what will happen next. Unexpected twists are certain to arise, and “red herrings” (misleading clues) are introduced to increase our quandary.
I was disappointed with the manner in which author Paula Hawkins pulled everything together at the end. It did not ring true. She indicated in an interview that she had originally chosen a different ending, but decided against it. Perhaps her first choice might have been less unsettling.
“The Girl on the Train” is correctly called a “thriller.” Every page raises the reader’s heartbeat. The concentration on the psychological stress of three interconnected women is not often presented in a novel for our assessment. This aspect alone is an inducement to female readers to soldier on. I cannot wait to see what the filmmakers do with this production.