After a very classic start to the year with a bit of James Baldwin, the book club were feeling really rather current in February, with the latest member in the hot seat bringing a score of ‘highly recommended’, slightly more modern reads. Despite the likelihood that this was not going to be available from the local library any time soon (true) and the lack of a paperback copy, the majority couldn’t help but pick out Paula Hawkins’ much-hyped début novel.
Rachel Watson is our girl on the train. On the way to and from London each day she gazes into the back of the numerous Victorian terraces, dreaming up her imagined life for an attractive young couple who she sees relaxing on their balcony from time to time. Jess and Jason, as she calls them, are, in reality, Megan and Simon and when Megan goes missing a day after Rachel witnesses something a little odd from her private viewing platform, our girl on the train turns from surreptitious spectator to major game player quicker than you can say ‘whodunnit’.
The slight disappointment I had with this book is that, even for a numpty like me who can never figure things out, this particular whodunnit felt a bit obvious (no spoilers I promise!). That said, this book put me in mind of S J Watson’s brilliantly creepy; Before I Go To Sleep. The triple narrative between Rachel, Megan and Rachel’s ex-husband’s wife, Anna, creates a jigsaw puzzle effect that helps to maintain a steady pace and the slow reveal that has put this thriller out on the top of the bestseller charts. Rachel is an unreliable narrator in the extreme; a depressed alcoholic coming to terms with a messy divorce who, due to her drink problem, suffers huge memory lapses. A bit of an easy device to make this ‘mystery’ even more of a mystery but there we have it…
Although Rachel’s drinking and the behaviour that ensues makes her a rather frustrating character, I did manage to find a little sympathy in my heart for her; a hugely important feat when wanting to appreciate a book in full. No, I may not be an alcoholic but I am a girl on a train, with my little daydreams, nicknames for people and whatnot. I am also a woman who can appreciate the devastating effect the breakdown of a relationship can have on someone. Rachel’s interest (bordering on obsession) with ‘Jess and James’ has a huge amount to do with nostalgia for her own past happy relationship. A sad sentiment I could really get on board with.
I don’t read many thrillery-type novels. The books I choose to read myself tend (quite unintentionally) to be slow-burners; focusing more on atmosphere than pace. My first sitting with The Girl on the Train was therefore, for want of a better word, thrilling, as I devoured 100 pages in swift succession without even looking up from the page. Exciting? A promising start? Well, yes, certainly. The only trouble is that once I got used to the pace, it all felt pretty safe and steady, certain chapters almost feeling like a filler for the real action at the end. A bit like the new Star Wars movies.
Thankfully the lull did not last. The finally cluster of chapters were so utterly jaw dropping that I actually dribbled on myself…. Not attractive but certainly a sign of a decent ending, however predictable. So… what I want to know is; when is the movie coming out?