Super hyped books are a double edged sword – you get to hear about a book that is potentially awesome that you may not have otherwise discovered – yay – but you also have to keep your expectations in check. Hype can kill a book you might otherwise have really enjoyed – boo. Fortunately, The Girl on the Train is one of those books that was hyped and enjoyable. Is it a five star read? No. But it’s definitely worth reading if you’re looking for something not too taxing. It’s marketed as a mystery, but like a lot of the books I like, the mystery is just what gets us the story. As someone I know described it – the mystery is the tortilla chip that gets you the chunky salsa of the story. The mystery in this novel – a missing woman – is the backdrop of a story that is really about the importance of self-reliance. Also, that missing woman is the only similarity it has to Gone Girl. I don’t know why people keep comparing these two books. Liking one in no way means you’ll like the other. It’s like saying pot is the same as crack. Sure, they’re both drugs, but that’s where the similarities end. Gone Girl is way darker than The Girl on the Train.
Here’s what we’ve got in this novel (and yes, this is where the spoilers begin) – on a daily commute to work, a woman watches the same houses go by every day. And in those houses, she often sees the same people. So she makes up stories about them in order to fill the time. This is something every commuter can relate to. I take the same train to work every day and every day I look to see if the house I covet has sold. I try to figure out how the graffiti gets onto the bridge legs. I check if the John Travolta cut out in the window of the dilapidated house had been joined by any others. Until the day we chugged past and the house with the cut out was gone. Just gone. Totally levelled. It threw me – for a couple days. First day I was sure I had just been distracted and missed the house. So I checked the next day and the next and nope, there was a hole in the ground where the house used to be. So I sort of get what was happening with Rachel. Something she counted on had changed. Not necessarily something important, but something steady.
There are some differences between her and I though. Unlike Rachel, I was actually going to work, not just riding the train to fake out my roommate. Also, I’m not a raging alcoholic. And the things I pay attention to require no police intervention. And I’m not drawn to these people as a weird connection to my former life. Rachel is watching this neighbourhood so closely because it’s where she used to live. When she had a happy marriage and potential. Before Anna moved in and destroyed everything. So, she creates this life for the people she would later learn were Megan and Scott. The stories of these three woman weave together to create the fabric of the novel. Their povs are used interchangeably throughout the novel – and on the audiobook they have three different narrators. It’s a style I don’t typically love, but it worked well in this book.
The story we’re told is not an unfamiliar one. It’s actually one that’s a bit of a trope in the dramatic chick lit set – woman struggles to regain control of her life after a failed battle with infertility and a cheating husband (Rachel). Mistress becomes blissful new wife and has the long wanted baby, not realizing her husband is doing to her what he did with her (Anna). Cute young neighbour in an unhappy marriage turns to handsome man down the road for escape (Megan). Sounds a little lifetime movie, yeah? It could have gone very wrong, but Hawkins handles it pretty well. Instead of typical melodrama, she gives us a bit of a mystery to tie all the women together before she shows us how they actually connect. Megan is missing and Rachel insinuates herself into the investigation. She becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to her. Then obsessed with Megan’s husband.
But she’s a disaster. Like a real, honest to goodness disaster. She’s drinking herself to death. She blacks out. She is as unreliable a narrator as they come. She can’t remember where she was the night Megan disappeared. She’s sure she knows what happened while not knowing anything for sure. The only thing she’s sure of is that she saw Megan’s therapist at her house kissing her. So, maybe I missed it and someone can clear it up for me, but at no point is this little piece of information resolved, right? There’s no way Rachel could have picked out the therapist from a photo if she hadn’t actually seen him, but in Megan’s portion of the story, she never talks about the moment when she invited him over in the early morning to a place where her works-from-home, jealous husband could have found them. Right? We just hear about the incident from Rachel’s pov?
That’s one of my issues with the book. The unresolved portions. Now, if you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I don’t really care for resolutions. I mean, I don’t need every moment tied up. But I need it to feel like it’s left open with purpose. Like it’s not resolved because sometimes things in real life just aren’t. But when it feels like the author just kind of forgot to resolve it, then it’s frustrating. Maybe it was in another draft and it got left out of this one? Maybe it’s there and I missed it because it’s a lot easier to miss stuff in audiobook format. Maybe I was coveting that house when this resolution happened. Someone tell me, please. The two moments in the book that stand out are that one and the red headed dude on the train. We get ‘resolution’ with him in the sense that we find out who he is, but he serves no purpose. There are other ways we could have gotten to the same result that felt less forced.
But back to the good stuff. Rachel is the central character, but the other women deserve their moment in the sun. Megan is my favourite of the three. Sure, she’s messed up and has some questionable morals, but she’s human. Her faults have shaped her entirely. She’s just looking for something to make her feel grounded. And she thinks that’s a picture perfect life in the suburbs with a husband and nice house. But, like everyone around her, she’s drowning in her secrets. Her secret former life with the baby she killed and buried in the garden. Her secret abusive husband. Her secret obsession with her therapist. Her secret affair with the man she nanny’s for. And it’s not like she feels bad about all these things. She actually doesn’t care about most of them. She just knows that their not things she should want in her life. That there’s some kind of proper path to follow and she’s never been on it. And trying to force herself into this mould is what finally kills.
Anna, well, Anna is another story. What a bitch. I hate this character. Partially because she’s totally bought into the mould Megan’s trying to fit. Hell, Anna is the damn mould. She’s the type of woman held up to others. Successful husband. Adorable baby. Beautiful. Well dressed. Nice home. But Christ is she smug. She’s so obsessed with herself that she thinks every single thing in the neighbourhood is about her. Every trip Rachel makes there must be related to her – alright, maybe this is justified, Rachel did once try to steal her child – even when Rachel doesn’t come anywhere near her. She sees Rachel coming out of Megan’s home and thinks it must mean that Rachel wants to steal her baby. What an effing drama queen. I may not like her, but she’s realistic. She gives the story a bit of something to keep it from drowning in Rachel’s unreliability.
So separately, these three women tell us their stories. The stories of how one stupid man ruined all their lives. One guy who can’t keep it in his pants. An alcoholic. Two mistresses. A murder. Everything comes back to these women relying on the men in their lives to make them happy. To find something to hold onto in someone else instead of relying on their own strength. Instead of ever building their own strength. These women never get it and in the end, it destroys them all.