The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel’s life is the epitome of mundane. Each day her biggest excursion is commuting to and from work on the London train. But unlike the other passengers , what thrills Rachel the most about her commute is gazing at the stretch of cozy Victorian homes mingling along the tracks. Her favorite house, number 23, is home to a beautiful couple who Rachel nicknames, Jess and Jason. During the few minutes the train stops for construction on the tracks, Rachel watches the couple as they relax out on their terrace and live out the promises of domestic bliss.
Jess and Jason represent everything Rachel has lost; her husband, her home, and most importantly, her sanity. However, watching Jess and Jason also gives Rachel solace that happiness still exists in outside of her own shattered world. That is, until she sees something strange happening on Jess and Jason’s terrace the following day.
Without a warning, Rachel finds herself mixed into a world where her own fantasies blend into hard, cold reality. She becomes a witness, but an unreliable one at that. Struggling against a streak of heavy drinking and violence on her record, Rachel desperately attempts to warn the police of everything she believes she has seen from her small window on the train.
Constantly shifting narration between three of the novel’s main female characters, the reader is provided a glimpse into the web of lies we tell ourselves and the tainted realities we live. Each woman uses her own unique, yet eerily similar experience to illustrate the boundaries the human mind. More than anything, The Girl on the Train, begs one main question:
How far we are willing to go in order to grasp at our own corrupt fantasies?
“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” (Rachel POV)
“And I’ve just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don’t, if I keep numbing it, it’ll never really go away.” (Rachel POV)
“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.” (Rachel POV)
“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.” (Rachel POV)
“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?” (Rachel POV)
“Who’s to say that once I run, I’ll find that isn’t enough? Who’s to say I won’t end up feeling exactly the way I do right now-not safe, but stifled? Maybe I’ll want to run again, and again, and eventually I’ll end up back on those old tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go. Maybe. Maybe not. You have to take the risk, don’t you?” (Megan POV)
First of all, I appreciate how engaging this book was right from the very first page. Even though I love reading, (I am an English major after all) sometimes I have a difficult time picking up a book and sticking with it. But with The Girl on the Train, I never encountered this problem. In fact, I began reading it while lounging around SFO at 3 in the morning! Despite being sleep-deprived and anxious for my trip, I was drawn into the crazy world of seemingly innocent train rides and man-made mayhem.
What I loved most about reading this thriller was experiencing the perspectives of the three very different narrators. Each woman is complicated in her own way; facing different, yet eerily similar, demons. Themes throughout the book range from abuse to motherhood, sexual power/politics to mental illness, and everything in-between. It is not a cheery novel for the slight of heart. In fact, it is a novel where the reader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty and, dare I say it, “take a ride on the wild side.”
Rachel is the main character and particularly unique one at that. She acts as both a passive and active force within the progression of the storyline as she transforms from watcher, into actor. When the reader is first introduced to Rachel, she seems somewhat normal. However, as the reader becomes more and more acquainted with her stream of consciousness, it becomes very clear that Rachel has a conundrum of deep-rooted, complicated issues.
Rachel’s most notable characteristics are her alcoholism and her fascination with watching people. So basically, Rachel is a voyeur and an alcoholic. Now, the only issue with describing Rachel as a “voyeur,” is that at first many of her watchful habits seem more innocent than the word suggests. In the beginning of the book, Rachel talks about simply watching the couple from the train because she wants their life. In that train of thought, what she is exhibiting is not voyeurism, but sonderism. However, as the story goes on, it is clear Rachel consistently straddles the line between being a voyeur and experiencing true sonder for the first time.
It begs the questions, what happens when we discover the tangled lives of others? Do we belong in their webs, or does each of us too stuck on our own paths to join another? Or we capable of fighting for the greater good, or are we too selfish to care? From cheating to murder and mayhem, The Girl on the Train, tugs at the very strings of humanity.