Friday, May 25, 2018

Paula Hawkins - The Girl on the Train

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Comment: I got this book last year while it was still hyped everywhere but since it was compared to Gone Girl, which I've read and liked but of course has some dark tones, I wasn't dying about delving into a psychological thriller so I held on reading it. This month, I added it to my reading list at last.

I don't think I need to go into lots of descriptions but for those who have managed not to follow the hype, this is the story of Rachel, a woman who catches the train everyday to go to work. On the way, the train passes by a set of houses at some point and Rachel looks that way almost all the time so she feels she could know the people who live there, in particular a young couple.  Rachel sometimes wishes she could be as happy as the couple seems to be until the day she sees something that shocks her. Since Rachel can't do much to undo the problems that happened to her, she tries to do something good and gets into a situation not related to her but while looking for to help, she sees herself in an even bigger mess that just can'«t have a positive outcome...

Just so that I'm clear, I'll include some spoilers in my comment, not that would ruin the end if someone tries to read the book, but I'll include some information that can be considered spoiler.

Many people have liked this book, others didn't but I actually liked the reading experience, if not the characters themselves. I think this might be the biggest issue for many readers, there's not one likable character one can relate to and try to defend of like. Of course this can make things not as pleasant to read about but I was quite interested in reading how the twists or the thriller parts would be portrayed.

Rachel is a very depressed character. Throughout the novel we get to understand why and some of her reasons do look terrible and unfair and too much for someone to bear but the fact she let herself go down a negative spiral, ending up in her alcoholism is depressing indeed. I think the problem is that during the whole novel, she never tries to change for the better or improve or follow the advice of those who care about her, like her roommate. I believe readers would like her a lot more if in the middle of all her musings and sadness she would also include attempts to put herself up again.

The fact Rachel is an alcoholic is an important part of the story, though. Such a status is what allows some situations to develop for she is not considered a reliable person and much less a witness in a police investigation we see developing through the novel. Somehow I also pity Rachel because she did fell into an abyss and can't seem to get out of it but through her narrative we can also see she has a good heart despite her flaws and that certainly made her redeemable to me.

The other main characters, namely the couple Rachel saw from the train, her ex and his new wife, all are complicated and layered characters. At first sight they all seem normal people but as the story unfolds, we get to discover more and more unsettling aspects, most of them when it comes to their behaviors and moral conduct. I suppose this is what makes the story repulsive and addictive at the same time, it's like watching a very bad situation happen but we still don't stop it as we are fascinated with the bad side of a person. I must say that knowing the reasons behind all the problems and how every character is connected felt rather flat.
I expected some complexity in terms of personality, morality, socially behavior... I do agree with those who claim the story was publicized in an exaggerated way and that it's not as well interwoven as one would expect of a thriller.

There are three narrators and on one hand I liked that because it allows the reader to know things otherwise wouldn't be easily inserted in the plot but I also think the voices of every character were pretty much the same. I can't say if this is just the author's style or if it's a tactic meant to make things confusing on purpose but since neither of the narrators is exactly someone one would appreciate, the story drags on with a negative vibe, a sort of despaired struggle to explain things that just don't appeal.

I liked the mystery and I did feel sorry for Rachel and some of her decisions but this is really a story one shouldn't read to feel upbeat and engrossed in a complicated plot. The psychological side of things was interesting but since it led nowhere, I would say this narrative was a bit flat.
Still, unlike other readers, I wasn't bored and managed to find will to keep reading and I was looking for the twist that would make it all feel worthwhile. I don't think the author quite accomplished that but the book did provide me with some entertaining hours and that can be enough for me.
Grade: 7/10

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