Unless you’ve been locked in the drum of your drying machine lately, you’ve heard about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. You know that it’s about a woman, Rachel, who rides the same train each workday (and some weekends), and when she sees something shocking from the windows of said train, her world quickly (further) unravels.
I was torn about reading this book (because it’s had so much hype that I figured it didn’t need me) and even more so about reviewing it. I hated every single character in the story. I found the plot devices contrived and often condescending to readers. The big shocking ending was clear to me long before it should have been.
And yet, I couldn’t put the damn thing down. If ever a book deserved the “compulsively readable” label, this is it. It is the kind of book that reminds people that reading is supposed to be fun.
The marketing around THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN has been a wonder to behold. I first became aware of the book at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival last year when I saw train tickets all over that were actually marketing tchotchkes for the book. The American galley was beautifully presented. Both the American and UK covers are lovely. My only issue with the marketing is calling this book a debut novel. To be clear, this has been an issue with the US marketing; in the UK, it’s been referred to as a “debut crime thriller,” which is completely accurate. This is Paula Hawkins’ first psychological/crime thriller, and her first novel published under her name. But it’s not her first novel. She wrote three books as Amy Silver, in 2009, 2010, and 2011. So calling her a debut novelist—or this a debut novel—is disingenuous. We’ll see how that works out come awards season next year.
One thing I love about this book is the discussion around it. It has gotten so many insightful reviews from people I trust and respect, and I can’t recommend reading these highly enough:
- Pop Culture Nerd
- The Crime Lady (be sure to sign up for this newsletter while you’re there)
- BOLO Books
- Malcolm Avenue Review
This week, I had one of the most interesting discussion I’ve had on Facebook about this book. Kristopher from BOLO Books pointed out that this seems to be a “love it or hate it” book, and I agree…with the caveat that whichever side you fall on, you won’t be able to stop reading.
Lauren from Malcolm Avenue Review explained that her problem with the book was that all the female characters had the same issues with men, and the men all felt the same. I think that’s true too.
We talked about the unlikability of the characters, and the brilliant author Becky Masterman (side note: you really should read her new book, FEAR THE DARKNESS) wondered whether it’s about unlikable women. After all, Elmore Leonard’s (male) characters are routinely unlikeable.
We also talked at some length about how Rachel’s alcoholism is portrayed in the book. I found it borderline offensive based on my personal experience, but others found it truthful and insightful.
So am I recommending the book? I have no idea. I can’t not recommend it, because it kept me reading. I can’t recommend it because I think there are better books out there (like Becky’s, referenced above, which is just as readable). But what I can recommend is that if you read THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, you then talk with people about it. It’s guaranteed to lead to fascinating discussions!