The debut novel by Paula Hawkins is a dark murder mystery and the latest in the popular string of twisted ‘who-dunnits’ by female authors.
The novel centers around Rachel, an alcoholic sad-sap who is still reeling from her messy divorce. Every day Rachel catches the same train into London whereby she passes the familiar row of suburban homes. While on her daily commute, Rachel spends her time at the signal stop watching and fantasizing over the seemingly idyllic couple who occupy one of track-side houses. Rachel names them Jess and Jason. One day Rachel witnesses something shocking at the house and the next day Jess is missing – later found murdered. Rachel was there the night Jess was killed, but was blackout drunk at the time. With holes in her memory, Rachel seeks to fill in the blanks and find out the truth of Jess’ murder.
Comparisons of the Girl on the Train have been made to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, however I don’t believe they are the same. Whereas Flynn opts for a shock and awe style of mystery with dramatic twists, Paula Hawkins’ style is far more conventional. Like Gone Girl however, Hawkins’ novel is the latest to be given the film treatment, with an Emily Blunt led adaptation scheduled for release later this year.
However, if I were to compare the novel to any of Flynn’s work I would compare it to Dark Places, at least to the extent that it suffers from the same condition of being completely populated by characters that range from unlikable to detestable. Rachel’s seemingly never ending self-destructive behavior and wallowing in self-pity becomes exhausting. By the time the glum protagonist makes any effort to grow on the reader, it is too little too late.
The other characters in the novel move in and out of focus as red-herrings or antagonists, however all fail to hold any redeeming qualities. This is to such an extent that by the time the killer was revealed, I hardly cared because by that stage I had the same level of contempt for every character in the book that it made no difference whether they had killed someone or not.
The accumulative effect of unlikable character syndrome is that eventually the novel becomes a chore to read. You begin to dread spending more time with these people and it is only the promise of a good mystery that can pull you through.
So how is the mystery? Well….it’s okay. It’s nothing amazing… but fine I guess? The biggest problem with this book is that it suffered from over-hype. Best-seller lists, movie adaptations and being labelled the second coming of Gillian Flynn – I picked up the Girl on the Train expecting to be pulled into a deep, suspenseful and shocking thriller. Instead, I got a mediocre one.
Ultimately, it was a semi-entertaining read with an ending that could be seen a mile away…while on a train.