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Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train’

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?

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Literature Review

 

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Renée Knight’s ‘Disclaimer’

What if you realized the book you were reading was all about you?

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…

I chose this book because I found the premise very intriguing and mysterious which is not what I normally go for. I’m more often found reading something comedic or romantic fiction so this was a step outside of my comfort zone for me and at first I was a little disappointed. When I was younger I would also delve into the worlds of science fiction so I was expecting something more along those lines, assuming that the reason that the novel was telling her life was supernatural especially as according to the description the novel just ‘appears’ but that was not the case. So yes, I was a little bit disappointed when I first started reading. But that expectation and disappointment unfortunately lead to some confusion. Because I was looking for the usual themes and tropes that one would find in a Sci-Fi novel and not finding them I couldn’t get a grasp on how the novel worked. Different voices are portrayed from different times and slowly they converge towards the middle of the book. But each chapter doesn’t tell you who’s voice you are hearing, just the rough date from which it comes. Once I cast off my preconceptions it was much easier to get along with. Once I stopped thinking about what the novel could have been or the way I wanted it to be it was much easier to enjoy the story it actually was.

The story is, as the description says, it is about a woman who finds a book on her bedside cabinet but she has no idea who put it there and as she begins to read it she realises that someone has written a book about a dark period in her life, a period that she has never spoken to anyone about and, as far as she knew. she was the only person alive who knew about it. The book follows both her struggle with finding the author and controlling the fallout from the implications of the novel as well as the following the writer and their motivations and fight to ruin Catherine’s life. What I liked in particular about this novel was that facts and connections are introduced slowly, just dropped into the narrative as if they are unimportant but then are repeated, making it a little more obvious each time. At first I found this annoying as we knew very little so it was just the same hints over and over but nothing to give you any clarification of the thoughts running through our protagonists’ heads. But as the story develops and more connections are made it becomes clearer but not clear. It’s a typical ‘answers leaving you with more questions’ scenario.

But what I found interesting is that as the reader you get sucked into the lives of the characters, it is easy to see how the novel encourages you to take sides which can change at any moment depending on the developments that arise because there are effectively three stories here. Catherine’s, The author’s and the story itself ‘The Perfect Stranger’ that winds up on her bedside cabinet. So as their narratives develop, excerpts from the novel are given to us and the voices of people long since dead are revealed the perspective shifts, our understanding of events shifts. And I’m ashamed to admit it is far too easy to get swept along by ‘The Perfect Stranger’ without considering how much of it is fiction. I can honestly say that the twists and turns taken by the novel took me by surprise more often than not and I am one of those annoying people who prides myself on always knowing what’s going to happen next. But for me this novel was a bit like The Sixth Sense, you don’t see it coming but when you look back, when the characters look back, you realise the clues were all there.

Considering that I started out quite coldly towards this novel, struggling to pick it back up (That’s why it’s been so long since I’ve posted and for that I apologise) by the end I was quite invested and ended up staying up half of the night to see how it concludes. Mystery novel are not normally something I’d go for but based on this novel I might try another should one come up. I would recommend you try this one even if like me it is not what you’re used to, but if you do, prepare to commit yourself to it and stick it out to see where it goes. I guarantee it’s not where you’d expect it to. If you liked the sound of it and think it’s right up your alley then keep an eye out for it in April 2015!

Then you can let me know what you think!

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Literature Review

 

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