After reading several other reviews and picking up on other people’s excitement regarding the imminent movie adaptation of Girl on the Train, I went out and bought myself a copy. From what I’d heard I was expecting thrills, mystery, twists, turns, the works, needless to say I was not disappointed.
In Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins has created a set of incredibly engaging characters. I tend to find with some thrillers that some of the minor characters are a little less real, a little less engaging, but here I didn’t find that. I was drawn in to each character, wondering what they were hiding, what were they really thinking, who was telling the truth.
I did develop a great dislike for the character of Anna, but with Rachel as the main character and Anna being so completely selfish in the whole situation it was easy to see why. For once, I didn’t hate a character because she was boring, or stereotypical or just totally irrelevant, I hated her because she was hateable. She was selfish, obsessive and totally oblivious to the surrounding situation. She felt real, like the kind of real person I would want to shake and shout at, the kind I would tell to wake up and see what was happening.
The use of three narrators in one novel usually either pays off dividends, like novels such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, or crashes and burns. Here, Hawkins has replicated what made Flynn’s novel such a success. Throughout the novel we have no idea which of these three narrators is telling the whole truth, if any of them even are. Granted there were some factors that weren’t too difficult to patch two and two together and come up with four. I did guess how Tom would be linked to everything I did work out a few of the lies, but overall the sense of contradiction between narrators, particularly Rachel and Anna, left me feeling tense and determined to get to the end to figure out more of what was going on.
I want to make a special not of Hawkin’s portrayal of Rachel, the blackouts Rachel struggles with were a great literary technique for keeping us as readers, and even the character, partially in the dark for the majority of the book. More than that, Hawkin’s portrayal of alcoholism and mental health was incredible. The darkness that engulfs both Rachel and Megan as they struggle with mental illness was, in my opinion, one of the most accurate descriptions I have ever read. But better than that, Hawkins showed both characters pulling themselves up, trying to move on with their lives, trying to carry on and that for me was great to see. Too many books that deal with mental illness over dramatize, glamorise and emphasise the dark side of mental illness. Yes these aspects of mental illness exist, yes there are incredibly dark days, but yes people do live with mental illness, people do carry on with their normal lives and people do make the effort to control their mental state. This for me is something that is so often ignored in order to emphasise the struggles of mental illness. What I loved here was that Hawkins didn’t glamorize mental illness, she portrayed it for what it was, dark and engulfing, but amidst this thriller of mystery and murder and mental illness, Hawkins showed us that there was hope, Megan was, in many ways, trying to deal with her mental health, trying to move on with her life, and Rachel makes several attempts to get sober and start again, and in the end it looks like she might just get there, The road isn’t easy for either character, and one in the end doesn’t make it, but there is hope, and that for me is something all too often lacking in portrayals of mental illness.
All in all, Girl on the Train is a fantastic thriller and a great all round novel. I read the whole thing in a matter of days, despite being incredibly busy. I tore through the pages trying to race to discover what was really going on. Safe to say I have October 7th blocked out in my diary ready for the film release.