The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
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?
The best kind of unreliable narrator is one who knows she’s unreliable. Rachel takes the train everyday and watches the world outside the window. In particular, she is entranced with a couple who live in one of a row of houses. She has named them Jess and Jason and created an entire story for their lives. They are everything she is not – happy and married. Because Rachel drinks too much, is divorced from a cheating ex and rides the train everyday to a job she was fired from month’s earlier so her roommate doesn’t learn the truth.
After an introduction to Rachel, we meet Megan one year earlier. Megan is ‘Jess’ and quite depressed. Her business has failed and she is reduced to a short stint as a nanny for a family down the road. When that doesn’t work out she is bored and constantly spoiling for fights with her husband Scott. Megan begins therapy to figure out what she wants to do. She can’t be just a wife who stays at home and takes Pilates classes.
One day Rachel sees Jess kissing a man who is not her husband. She is angry at this stranger for such a betrayal, a clear projection of the anger she continues to hold toward her husband, his new wife and their baby, all of whom live in the house Rachel used to have with her ex. (Also, conveniently, a house on the road where Jess lives.) She imagines confronting Jess or telling Jason. Because she drinks so much, there are times when she’s not sure what is in her imagination and what actually happens. She blacks out and learns about her actions through angry phone calls from her ex-husband Tom. She doesn’t trust herself because she loses memories and is reliant on others.
Then Rachel learns in the paper that Jess/Megan has disappeared. She feels compelled to involve herself since she saw Megan with another man (possible suspect) and because she has a suspicious memory that she was in the area the night Megan went missing. She inserts herself into the investigation, telling the police what she knows. The police quickly dismiss her as unreliable so Rachel approaches Scott to tell him about the man she saw with Megan.
The women in this book aren’t nice and the men are just plain mean. Eventually everyone shows their worst side, even if filtered through the perspectives of Rachel, Megan and Anna, Tom’s new wife. Despite being filled with despicable people, the book is saved by the mystery of Megan’s disappearance and Rachel’s continual efforts to recover her memories and figure out what happens. Her effort makes her sympathetic, even as she fails over and over.
The Girl on the Train is an engaging book that raises many questions and answers them all to some degree. Not everything is wrapped up in a pretty bow but the mystery is solved and the women persevere. The story has closure which, to me, is satisfying.