Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
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bookshelves: mystery, fiction, thriller

I read this one out of curiosity. Aware that it had been a huge market success, I wondered if it merited the sales. According to Riverhead, The Girl on the Train is, or was, the fastest-selling adult hardcover fiction debut ever. And that is a shame. With so many great books being published every year that do little or no business, for this one to have secured a first class ticket on the book-sales express can only be dispiriting to the good and great writers everywhere toiling away in third class on the oft-delayed local.

I do not mean to say that The Girl… is a bad book. Although I believe it to be seriously flawed, it is most definitely entertaining and will no doubt help hundreds of thousands of readers while away a few hours of their (our) lives, getting from this station to that. But if you want a psychological thriller that doesn’t disregard red signals you would do better to book a seat elsewhere.

Paula Hawkins

Rachel Watson has had a tough go of it. When her hopes of having a baby with hubby Tom did not work out, she landed in a trough of post-hope depression, and self-medicated with a steady flow of what seemed happier spirits. It did not work out. Now, divorced and unemployed as a result of her drinking, growing larger and pastier by the day, Rachel rides the commuter train to London on weekday mornings, pretending she is still working, pretending she still has a life. The ride takes her past her old neighborhood, offering a nice, mood dampening view of a stretch of railroad-edge homes. She used to live in one of those, before her ex bought out her interest. A few places away from her former home there is a couple she sees most days. She imagines lives for them, nursing this fantasy for quite some time, until she learns that the woman has vanished, and the game is afoot.

The notion for the story occurred to Hawkins on her regular train ride in London some years back. She calls it “Rear-Window-ish,” noting that it is hardly unusual for train riders to be curious about the lives being lived in the houses they pass, and just as likely for those on the ground to wonder about those passing by.
I used to go to college on the District line,” she said. “It goes very, very slowly and you can look into people’s houses. I did idly wonder about what you would do if you saw an act of violence or something suspicious. It’s quite normal, everyone is curious about other people’s lives.” - from an article in the Standard
This irregular Watson will not make anyone forget the investigative Doctor, let alone his illustrious partner, but Rachel feels compelled to find out whatever she can, using the knowledge she has gleaned from her daily observations. We expect our investigators these days to be a bit down on their luck, and to throw back maybe more than their share of amber liquid. But Rachel Watson doesn’t have a drinking problem, she has a drinking catastrophe. How is she to figure out whither the missing lady has gone, or perhaps who made her go missing, how is she to judge whether the lady’s anger-management-challenged husband, the other man she saw at her place, or someone else might be somehow involved, if her drinking causes her to have more blackouts than London during the blitz.

The tale is told in staggered chronology, from three perspectives. Rachel’s, the missing person’s, and Anna’s, she being the woman with whom Rachel’s ex cheated while he was still with Rachel, and whom he subsequently married. Or she said, she said, and then she said. The timelines converge at the end. Most sections are divided into sub headings of morning, evening, afternoon, that sort. It makes for many short passages, good, appropriately, for reading on a train.

This is an example of the S stock used on the District line Hawkins once rode

The pace of the tale is quick, clickety-clacking along without exceeding posted limits, advancing nicely to the big climax. Truthfulness comes in for some attention, as it seems everyone has something to hide. If you are looking for likeable characters, you might try the Hogwarts Express. The folks here tote enough baggage to merit their own cars. I suppose Rachel is sympathetic, but seems almost as much an agent of her misery as a victim. Making her pathetic and annoying was, I expect, a way to make her real, make her sympathetic, and that works, to a point.

Will Rachel find out what happened with the missing woman? Will her ex take out an order of protection against her, as she keeps calling and showing up at his place? Is the missing person merely missing? or worse? Can Rachel stay sober long enough to figure anything out? You might very well care. Clearly, judging by sales, many do. But, while I did, a little, I felt pushed away by this book. I felt cheated, as an actual audience member, as if riding on a disoriented express. I do understand that the unreliable narrator is simply a story-telling mechanism and that Rachel falls into the Madman classification within that, but when she changes her story about a significant piece of information the story went off the rails for me. So, while there is plenty to enjoy about The Girl on the Train, while there is plenty of tension-release-repeat, and while many readers are bound to be transported by the story, relating to or rooting for one or more characters at least some of the time, the one thing a reader demands from an author is honesty, and when trust is lost so is the benefit of the several hours we spend together. The locomotive was transformed, for me, into a hand-car trapped in a siding. It’s elementary.

Review posted – 7/10/15

Publication date – 1/13/15
Movie opens - 10/7/16

=============================EXTRA STUFF

While this may be the first novel by Paula Hawkins, it is not the first novel that Paula Hawkins wrote, or published. She got work writing chick-lit under the name Amy Silver, an experience that she says was great training. Hawkins, born and raised in Zimbabwe, was 17 when her family moved to London. She had wanted to be a foreign correspondent like her father, but decided that war zones were just too scary. Check the Guardian piece if you are interested in getting more info on the author.

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Twitter as Amy Silver, and FB pages

Excellent intel in this piece in The Guardian

Here is the article from the Standard cited in the review, 'My District line commute inspired bestselling thriller,' says London author Paula Hawkins ,

An interview with the author in Entertainment Weekly The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins talks about her next thriller, by Clark Collis

A few great train reads. Now don’t bug me about the brevity of this. I know there are only a gazillion. Do feel free, however to add your favorite train books in the comments. I will be happy to add those to this list if you like. I have not gotten around to installing links for all of these, but I expect you guys can manage

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie’s
Murder on the Orient Express by AC
Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal, Edith Pargeter
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, or several other train books by this author
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead - recommended for inclusion by Dianne

Not to be outdone, TRAIN TUNES
Can't You See - recommended by Murf the Surf
Casey Jones – this version by Allan Hirsch
Chatanooga Choo-Choo – Glenn Miller Orchestra - recommended by Clif
Folsom Prison Blues (I hear that train a’comin) – Johnny Cash
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – Pete Seeger
Last Train to Clarkesville – The Monkees
Last Train to Lhasa - Banco de Gaia - recommended by Rand
Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull – the vid is cadged together, but this is what it should sound like
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight
MTA - The Kingston Trio
Take the A-Train – Duke Ellington
The Train Song – a bit of silliness from Armstrong and Miller
Goodbye World (Sad song when Dad jumps from the train) – from Korean Zombie flick Train to Busan - recommended by Jay G.
Under Your Thumb by Goodley and Creme - recommended by Lesley
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2015 – Started Reading
June 2, 2015 – Shelved
June 4, 2015 – Finished Reading
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: mystery
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: thriller

Comments Showing 1-50 of 120 (120 new)

message 1: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana Marlatt Great review. It was an intertwining book, but that's about it! I am sure it will soon be a movie...

Will Byrnes Rights have been sold and it is cranking up

Jennifer Masterson Great review! If there is a movie I'm not going to watch it. This book was such a disappointment. I still can't believe how successful it has been.

Amanda Jane You know after reading your review Will. I have had a think about the lasting impression that this book has had of me....I came to the realisation that it really left no impression on me whatsoever. I also realised that I have read so many books that have left an impression.
I feel that I need to change my rating to show this. Originally I have it 5 stars but I wonder if at the time I got caught in the hype of this book.
In saying that I want to say to you Will that as usual a wonderful review!

message 5: by Will (last edited Jul 12, 2015 08:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, folks. I wonder if this might be a situation in which the film, in the right hands, might turn out better than the book. As with much in media, there can be a sort of pack mentality regarding what is considered the cool thing (book/movie/recording artist/politician/athlete) du jour. While The Girl… is very entertaining and succeeds at raising tensions and speeding things along, it does seem to have been a beneficiary of, IMHO, unmerited hype.

Dianne Another great review Will. I'll take your advice and skip this book.

Karen’s Library I started reading this one and just couldn't connect. After about 15%, and a couple of friends telling me it was a "meh" for them, I decided to DNF. Your review made me so happy I did! Thanks!!

Karen Ng Thank you! I thought I was the only one who gave this book three stars.

Will Byrnes We are legion!

Doseofbella Superb review. Thanks for sharing!

message 11: by Patricia (new) - added it

Patricia Recently, I added a shelve named "No thanks, a Goodreads reviewer saved me the trouble." Well, if I read a review and decide to mark a book thusly, Goodreads also marks it as "read." There doesn't seem to be any way around this. So I am being credited with finishing some awful books. Weird stuff.

message 12: by Patricia (new) - added it

Patricia With a daunting "To Read" list of more than 8,000 books, I thought this might serve as a memory aid and save some time.

message 13: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Patricia wrote: "With a daunting "To Read" list of more than 8,000 books, I thought this might serve as a memory aid and save some time."

Wow, and I thought my TBR was ridiculously large.

Girl/Train is not an awful book. I did give it three stars. It is very successful in much of what it attempts. I took issue with a couple of particulars that irked me, but that do not seem to bother a lot of readers. FWIW

message 14: by Linda (new)

Linda Robinson Disoriented Express. Love that. And glad I skipped the hype on this book. Pathetic and annoying doesn't equal real, although somewhere that got written on a list of traits not to avoid.

Dianne Maybe A Train in Winter belongs on the list of train stories although it is nonfiction. It has a 3.77 rating on Goodreads.

message 16: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes I left that one out because most things take place away from the train, but if you like...

Dianne It's on my to read list. No it doesn't belong on the list if the train is only a small part of the book.

Doseofbella Well, it is on my tbr list...
I also am curious to find out what all the hype is about. On the other hand...why bother?
This just might be a book that you read regardless of the reviews. I seriously can not make up my mind.

Great review Will. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

message 19: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand nice re-viewing.

here's another musical pick for you to train with: Banco Da Gaia's Last Train to Lhasa.

message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Nifty train sound - thanks - It has been added

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Great, thorough review. I love the recommended train reads tacked on the end! You should put into a listopia

I have this one to read as well but haven't gotten to it yet, bought it last month.

message 22: by Jesús Vásquez (new)

Jesús Vásquez Good Book :D

Skyluv As usual Great Review Will! I completely agree with you

message 24: by Anna (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anna I'm not sorry I read it. But I won't be going out of my way to find or read more books by this author. Great review, thanks.

message 25: by Val (new)

Val Will your review is excellent as always. The book ending ruined the story for me because I require my villains to be somewhat brilliant or at least complicated with a twisted sense of right and wrong, whereas the bad character didn't really fulfill the sociopath mindset. An interesting idea was offered by someone that a plot twist could have made the three women, a drunk, a liar and a cheater, all be Rachel's multiple personality disorder. And hope the movie is better since it may have a favorite of mine, Emily Blunt, in it.

message 26: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Ideiosepius Another great review... though somehow I end up curious to read it. I don't follow popular books, so I had never heard of it but I do occasionally get fascinated by hype and read the novel to 'see for myself'. I rarely takes long.

message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Val wrote: "Will your review is excellent as always. The book ending ruined the story for me because I require my villains to be somewhat brilliant or at least complicated with a twisted sense of right and wro..."
Love the three faces of Rachel notion

Booky Great review!

message 29: by Linda (new)

Linda Robinson I've been reading debut novels written by women this year, and just begun to notice a lean toward the weak, ineffectual in her own life, lead female character. And codependent co-characters. Curiouser and curiouser. I was tempted to collect this book while at the library, and when I feel that urge, I read your review of a book. Thanks once more, Will!

message 30: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Linda wrote: "I've been reading debut novels written by women this year, and just begun to notice a lean toward the weak, ineffectual in her own life, lead female character. And codependent co-characters. Curiou..."
I am honored to be considered a guide of any sort for anyone, so thanks for thinking of me. What other books are on your list?

LeAnne: GeezerMom "I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But before I could get to the station in my pick-up truck,
She got run over by a damned ole train"
-David Allen Coe
(Lyrics to his famous Southern drinking song)

message 32: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Summons potential book or song titles

Girl Meets Train

Inside Track to Nowhere

The 5:09 to Hell

Pickin' up the Pieces (no, really)

Carmen Great review, Will. I also rated this three stars. It was overhyped IMO.

message 34: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Great minds...

Sonja Thank you Will for another great review. I rated it two stars. It was just "ok" for me.

message 36: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Sonja wrote: "Thank you Will for another great review. I rated it two stars. It was just "ok" for me."
I enjoyed it a bit more, but did not think it was great.

message 37: by Clif (new) - rated it 2 stars

Clif Hostetler On the subject of train songs, I submit the following:
Chattanoogo Choo Choo

message 38: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Clif wrote: "On the subject of train songs, I submit the following:
Chattanoogo Choo Choo"

Hah! Excellent choice.

message 39: by Katie (new)

Katie Fabulous review, Will. I've got curious about this because some people have compared Fates and Furies to it and I loved that novel. Your review confirms my hunch that they aren't really comparable.

message 40: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes I can offer nothing re that comparison, not having read F&F.

message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

lovely review

message 42: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Adrian

Cristina What really bothers me at this kind of books are the selling pitches: "the new Gone Girl" "new Agatha Christie" ..No it's definitely not!!

message 44: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes I agree. It may not be fair for a specific book to be put side by side with a particular well-known one, but it is a way, when done honestly, for readers to have a point of reference when considering a book or author they do not know.

MissCmiss Will, thank you so much for your review. The depth and honesty of your reviews always blow me away!

But especially, for this one, thanks for the Jethro Tull link! Ahhhhhhh, brought me right back to "the days..."

message 46: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Misc. I saw JT at the Filmore East, I think, back in 69, 70, or 71. Damn fine stuff. Locomotive Breath is one of my all time favorite screaming, air-guitar pieces, in or out of the shower.

Supratim Wonderful review, Will !

message 48: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks. Supratim

message 49: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson Haven't read it but have been curious. Thanks for a great review, Will.

message 50: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Betsy

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