The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I have to begin by saying that this book does not live up to its reputation. It’s supposed to be a phenomenal global bestseller but for me it was nothing more than a really boring read. I hate to have to say this about books, particularly because I have had to spend my own money buying them and it’s such a waste when you don’t really like the book afterwards. But this was honestly such a disappointing read! It was very predictable and very drawn out. The plot itself had so much potential, but it’s execution unfortunately really let the novel down.

I’ll begin by talking about the structure. The story is told by flicking between different voices of different characters that are central to the plot. So you get a section by Rachel, followed by a section by Anna or Megan and so on. But some of the sections just feel very unnecessary in this novel. For example, Anna’s sections just re-tell Rachel’s sections from a different perspective. And as this perspective is boring and I’ve already heard what happened from Rachel, it just didn’t really add much to the novel for me. There were maybe one or two sections from Anna that I felt made the story more interesting, but these were mainly towards the end of the novel, so I was already at my wits end with the story. Rachel would tell us that she had passed Anna’s house for example; and then in Anna’s sections we would hear that she had seen Rachel passing the house on that same day. So what? I already heard that from Rachel, thanks.

One of the most jarring elements of the novel’s structure, was the fact that the tenses were so difficult to follow at times. Each character’s section is broken up into sub-sections of ‘Morning’, ‘Afternoon’ and/or ‘Evening’. But within those sections, the tenses sometimes failed to compliment the time of day. The whole novel is written in the present tense, but there were times when the characters would switch into the past tense to describe something that had already happened. My only issue with this is that it wasn’t always made as clear as I felt it should be. Why was there not a line break between the present and the past?! Maybe I’m just a stupid reader, but it happened a few times throughout the book and it’s very jarring to be reading something and feel like your awareness of time and location is being distorted by poor narration. 
The novel included the typical thriller/crime conventions of a police investigation, suspects that were close to home and then the odd curve ball with Megan’s pregnancy, Tom’s cheating and Rachel and Scott sparking up a sexual relationship during the course of the investigation. However, none of it quite worked in this novel. Because Paula Hawkins just tells us the twists, doesn’t even let us try and figure things out for ourselves! She literally just tells us! And she doesn’t even really wait to tell us, she reveals almost everything within the first 100 pages or so. There is no slow reveal through a police investigation or a leftover diary or a secret that one of the characters has been keeping for a while. We find out almost everything in the beginning and then we are made to continue reading a story that has nothing new to bring to the table as it progresses. Apart from at the very end where all the bombshells are dropped at once – seemingly to bring the novel to a very rushed conclusion…

I just didn’t believe in the story. I had no emotional connection to Scott, Megan, Tom or Anna. I only felt connected to Rachel and the majority of that connection was based on pity. She’s an alcoholic who was forced to divorce from her husband and move out of the family home they bought together because he was cheating on her with another woman. Then to make matters even worse, he married the other woman, had a child with her and then continued to live with her in the house he bought with his ex-wife. Think that’s as bad as it gets? It isn’t. Rachel was infertile. She had struggled to conceive naturally in her marriage and tried IVF and failed.

Rachel is a really well-developed character! But her development has already taken place when the novel begins and during the course of the novel, she doesn’t develop any further. I actually think this would have been a better story if we went back ten years or so and Paula Hawkins told the story of Rachel’s marriage, divorce and drinking problems instead.

The final twist just doesn’t quite work for me. The fact that it was Tom who was seeing Megan all along. Tom who killed her, impulsively, after she responded badly to him asking her to abort their illegitimate child. And then it is finally Rachel and Anna who kill Tom. Paula Hawkins tries to lead us away from the obvious, by complicating the situation with Kamal Abdic (Megan’s therapist) as a suspect and later Megan’s own husband Scott as a suspect. She also includes the little backstory of Megan “accidentally” drowning a baby in a bath tub because she fell asleep (okay then) when she was much younger.

But there really is just too much going on here. There are too many messed up characters doing messed up things and the novel would have worked better overall if Paula Hawkins had been more strategic in her plot choices. Tom has cheated on both Rachel and Anna. Tom has been involved with Rachel, Anna and Megan. Rachel has been cosying up to Scott whilst trying to find purpose in life through trying to solve the mystery of Megan’s murder. Rachel and Scott have slept together. Scott is then violent towards Rachel when she finds out she has been lying to him. And then Rachel and her arch enemy Anna are finally united by their shared betrayal by Tom, so they kill him together. Multiple novels could have been written using these characters, it didn’t all need to be squashed uncomfortably into one!

By the end of the novel I didn’t even care who was dead and who did it. I just wanted to be done with it all. 

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