By: Nona Saharan
“I had this idea of somebody seeing something from their commute. I also separately had this character in my head, Rachel: an unreliable alcoholic that has memory problems. I built my story off of those two things. It doesn’t really sound like a smash hit, does it?” The result was exactly the opposite. Quickly pulling the attention of readers worldwide upon its release, award-winning mystery novel The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, is one of the fastest-selling mystery novels of all time and credited as Goodreads Choice Awards of Best Mystery & Thriller book of 2015.
A multi-perspective story, The Girl on the Train begins with Rachel, a 33 year-old alcoholic whose recent divorce from ex-husband Tom has taken a massive toll on her social and mental stability. Her daily train commute to the bustling city of London means passing countless numbers of track-side houses, including the one she and Tom shared while married. From her view from the train, Rachel also bears witness to the lives of what she believes to be the perfect couple, nicknaming them “Jason and Jess”. It wasn’t until one day, when Rachel saw something from the train, that she got herself involved with the messes of the lives she’d only watched from afar, uncovering secrets that made her realize the people around her were far more sinister than they seemed. Deeper into the novel, readers get to follow the story from the eyes of Tom’s new wife Anna, “Jess”, and Rachel herself, each chapter contextualizing the events that transpired in the one before.
Hawkins’ fast-paced psychological thriller is widely recognized for many things, but the compelling and prevalent female characters is what largely sets The Girl on the Train apart from other mystery novels of the genre. Each of them, with strikingly different personalities, highlights the qualities of the others and encourages the massive character development that happens within the book. Time jumps and flashbacks scattered throughout provide additional context and reason for the characters’ behaviours and actions, while simultaneously carrying an important theme of being aware and sympathetic of the pasts of others. As any classic thriller does, the spiraling whirlwind of the lives of Anna, “Jess”, and Rachel emphasizes the idea that not everything is as it seems.
Undeniably captivating and meticulously written, The Girl on the Train without a doubt lives up to the extensive and leading reputation that it has maintained for years since its publication. Hawkins’ inclusion of flawed protagonists was a relieving break from the elementary heroes of realistic fiction, thereby elevating the reader’s ability to connect with characters they followed chapter-by-chapter. Along the way, I found myself gasping at the innumerable end-of-chapter cliffhangers and the vast amounts of tension built behind the incredibly well-thought-out plot. All in all, this book remains one of my favorites and is perfect for those who want to dip their toes into the vast genre of crime fiction. In short, if you’ve ever wanted to vicariously live through a mystery, The Girl on the Train is perfect for you. But just remember: you never know who’s telling the truth.