Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…
Girl on the Train has been one of the hottest books of the year and so from a bookseller’s perspective I wanted to know what all the hype was about and more importantly if it was deserved. At Waterstones, we had been advertising Disclaimer by Renée Knight as the book to go for if you loved Girl on the Train, I read them the other way around but figured the theory would still apply. I will point out though that I do not advise that young females read this particular book whilst on the train as I did, I was going away for the weekend which meant I had to take a long train journey there and back which left me open to some very strange looks (one stranger actually started talking to me!). However, now that I’ve read them both I completely understand why they’ve been paired together, both have mysteries and twists that you don’t quite expect to see coming. What I like about both is that they are not like your average mystery novels in the pursuit of a criminal, trying to get to the bottom of a gruesome murder in an established format but instead is more about the individual characters and perspective even going so far as to have the different characters voice themselves individually.
We meet Rachel on the commute home on a Friday focusing her attention out of the window to see if she can catch a glimpse of the couple she has come to idolise in an effort to distract herself from the disaster that is her own house. That is until she reads an article stating that the Megan, whom she’s named ‘Jess’, has been reported missing and that the police suspect the husband, ‘Jason’, is responsible. Rachel, having become so attached to the perfect couple she’s created in her mind, can’t possibly believe that he would have anything to do with it at first tenuously involves herself in order to clear his name but is slowly sucked further and further in as it makes her feel more and more estimable. The more we get to know Rachel and Megan the more we come to realise that nothing is as it seems and everyone lies, even to themselves.
What makes Girl on the Train standout is its ability to confront your assumptions. Reading the synopsis and then the book itself is a bit like watching The Sixth Sense (I apologise if you’ve not seen it already) where you get to the end and think ‘hang on! That’s not right’ only to go back and see that nothing was technically misleading. The blurb for this story gives an impression that is not necessarily same as the one you are given by the story itself but at the same time not inaccurate. However, that is the case throughout the book as there are lots of little details that you take for granted until they are shown to be completely different later on. Hawkins is the master of slowly introducing salient details that can completely change events and perspectives. I know it seems as though I’m trying to sound as cryptic and evasive as possible but it truly is a difficult concept to explain without giving too much away. The narrative is told by various women featured, in first person but it also spans different time frames. Predominantly the story is told by the girl on the train in the present, as well as ‘Jess’ from an earlier timeline before she is reported missing.
What I love most about this story is that it is that the mystery is really that of human nature, the mystery of what has happened to ‘Jess’ is secondary to that, it is just the scenario in which we observe these characters. Hawkins explores jealousy, abuse, addiction, relationships as well as exploring different character types. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised that there is no one good character, not one good person and no-one that is blameless. Girl on the Train was ‘unputdownable’ for me, I was pulled through from beginning to end in the space of two days because I honestly had no idea what would be revealed next!
I would recommend this book if you are bored of formulaic, run of the mill thrillers and want something with strong characterisation that tries to reflect how transient and complex life can be. It’s currently out in hardback, paperback available in January next year.
Have you already got your hands on a copy? What did you think?