Written by: Paula Hawkins
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Summary: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”
Review: I walked by this book so many times during 2015, always inching toward it and backing away, wimping out of paying the exorbitant amount of money for a relatively thin hardback. Finally, I borrowed it from a friend who insisted it was one of the best books of the year and that it was my sworn duty as a self-proclaimed bibliophile to read it. Also, she told me what pretty much everybody says about this book – it’s another Gone Girl. I needed no more convincing, so I grabbed it from her and sat down.
And proceeded to be immensely disappointed.
When I used to circle around this book like a vulture, it was because of all the possibilities the book’s summary held. Will Rachel and the police’s investigation reveal something more sinister? How will this affect Rachel’s personal life? But all of the things my brain imagined as going down in an interesting plot line just didn’t happen. The mystery itself is not complex, and the storytelling is actually pretty messy, drawling on where it could have been cut short, and skipping over parts that should have been elaborated upon more. Every time that Rachel/the police start to make headway in the investigation, they’re pushed back from the resolution by one reason or another. At first, this is expected – people aren’t guilty, clues end up being lies, alibis check out. But it just seems exhausting here, especially when told through Rachel’s irritating and petulant voice. Additionally, Hawkins tries entirely too hard to make seven different lives coincide with one another, and the ending just makes it look tacky and uncreative. All of the characters were incredibly unlikable, and not because they were messed up or evil… but just because they were boring. During the novel, Hawkins even tries to switch up the POV between the three main female characters, but it sounds like the same person is talking, even though all of them are described as being three incredibly different people.
As for the comparison to Gillian Flynn… Gone Girl is an incredibly written piece with the story not being about some murder or mystery, but about how far a psychopath will go to feel fulfillment in whatever sick and twisted way they can. The Girl on the Train, however, has extremely little to do with psychopaths. The “villain” is not a psychopath (so please don’t even try to convince me that they are unless you’ve already looked up the word in a dictionary); they are just a normal person doing bad things under the right (or wrong?) conditions. Whereas Flynn’s characters are complex and incredibly written characters, most of them with deep mental and emotional issues that help build and support the plot of the novel, every single one of Hawkins’ characters is two-dimensional at best, and a lot of their traits seem superficial, like they were only mentioned to boost the word count. Any time one of the characters had a real hope for becoming an interesting character, such as Rachel’s alcoholism or the seemingly perfect Megan/Jess’ past, it’s like Hawkins slams the brakes on any potential character development, refusing to expand more on it or actually get into the dirtier psychoanalysis of either. I believe this lack of creativity and intelligence in writing the characters is the reason this book feel so impressively short for me. I almost just didn’t care enough about them to figure out who wronged who and why.
Ultimately, if you want a “murder mystery” that’s incredibly easy to read and follow, then this book is for you. But if you’re looking a book to mess with your mind or keep you guessing, this book does its job only about halfway. It isn’t always 100% clear who the villain is, and there’s definitely some damming evidence that makes you second guess your best suspect, but in the end game, it’s pretty easy to figure out whodunnit. Pretty much my only three requirements for a good book are a good plot, enjoyable characters, and a visible scene, and Hawkins missed almost all of these criteria, making it one of the less notable recommendations I’ve ever received. However, if you’ve got a recommendation for a pretty good murder mystery or psychological thriller, make sure to mention it in the comments below! Always looking for a great next book to read.