A Journalist's Archive

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          Looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? Well the pleasure a good book delivers will last much longer than flowers, and it’s a wonderful non-fat alternative to a box of chocolates. My Mother’s Day pick for this year is  “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins. It’s a mystery classified under a subgenre called “psychological thriller.” So instead of car chases and shootouts the action is more cerebral, plus it requires a different approach in order to discover “whodunit.” Following the clues won’t work; solving this mystery requires zeroing in on the characters’ personalities.
          Using the first-person voice, Hawkins tells the story through the eyes of three different women. In alternating chapters, Rachel, Megan, and Anna give us their versions of what took place during the summer of 2013. None of these women are perfect, nor are they so flawed you won’t be able to relate to them on some level.
          Rachel Watson hasn’t been able to move on after her husband Tom left her for another woman. Now, more often than not, she turns to alcohol for comfort. But liquor  hasn’t affected her vivid imagination, in fact, overindulging may have ramped it up a notch. She commutes to London on the 8:04 train from Ashbury to Euston Station. Or at least she did before losing her job, currently she rides the rails out of habit, living life vicariously through the people she sees beyond the train window. Rachel explains why she does this; “Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives… There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.”
          Here, Hawkins certainly nails a secret feminine trait. Rachel’s overactive imagination is endemic in our sex, most of us just don’t admit it, lest we appear unstable. But Rachel does take the practice to an extreme level as she fantasizes about “Jason and Jess” - fictitious names she’s given to a young couple who live a few houses down from her former home. She even invents careers for them, Jason’s a doctor, she thinks, and the carefree Jess must be an artist. “They’re what I used to be, they’re Tom and me five years ago,” Rachel declares.
          Actually, the couples’ names are Megan and Scott Hipwell. He is “an independent IT contractor,” whose job requires him to travel. Oddly enough, Megan did once have a thriving art business. But when the economy hit the skids, the art industry was among the first to collapse. Now Megan laments, “My days feel empty. I don’t have a gallery to go to any longer.”
          That leaves Megan searching for anything to help fill the hours. She thinks about applying to different art schools or doing volunteer work, and even goes so far as to take a job as a nanny, although she’s never been particularly fond of children. Finding little satisfaction, she turns to a new hobby, one that is certainly less than commendable.
          Most days, Megan drinks her morning coffee on the terrace outside her home. As the trains roll by, she imagines the exotic trips the passengers must be embarking upon, while in reality few are doing more than commuting to the daily grind.
          To the outside world Scott and Megan appear to be the perfect couple, but he knows better. Megan’s childhood was far from happy. She ran away from home when she was 15 years old after her older brother, Ben, died in a motorcycle accident. And while the gallery did somewhat boost her self-esteem, Scott believes her restlessness and overall dissatisfaction with life are related to her brother’s death. He finally convinces her to see a therapist. This is when Dr. Kamal Abdic enters the story.
          Next,  Anna Watson, Tom’s second wife, begins her tale. Hawkins uses this character to illustrate two major psychological flaws that plague many women.
          Anna wakes to the sound of her husband singing, “Happy Birthday to You,” as he presents her with breakfast in bed. Reflecting on her marriage, she believes she rescued Tom from the “insane Rachel.” So what if she became pregnant with their daughter, Evie, while Tom was still married? She’s happy to live under the delusion that everything her spouse says about his ex-wife is true. And she gives little credence to the age-old adage, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
          However, Anna does garner a little sympathy from readers when it comes to birth of her child. Most of us were raised to think that having a child will bring blissful happiness. But it doesn’t take too many sleepless nights of tending to a fussy baby to shatter that illusion. Yet, admitting that motherhood has its downside is still difficult for many women.
          One mistake Anna will admit to is this; “Everyone told me I was insane to agree to move into Tom’s house.” It only takes a few months of living in a home packed with things she “inherited’ from wife-number-one to realize her friends were right. Moreover, when it comes to the passing trains, Anna shouts, “I hate them. Absolutely bloody loathe them.”
          It’s no secret that one of these women will be murdered. The Prologue tells us, she will be “buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks.” Revealing who and why would hardly be fair. What I can tell you is that Hawkins’ mystery is thought provoking, and designed to keep you on the edge of your seat.
          So buy a ticket and get on board, “The Girl on the Train” is a mind-blowing thriller!

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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