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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

| 18 January 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 

January 2015
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



 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?


A lot of authors seem to make the assumption that a character needs to be likeable for  a reader to enjoy the book. Perhaps they feel like a reader can relate more readily with someone who presents as the sort of person they would like to be.

While a watered down, weak character is enough to induce rage in certain readers, and while readers like to champion their favourite characters, in recent years there have been quite a few authors going in the opposite direction, and obtaining huge success as a result.

These characters, these flawed people, are the sort we like to gossip about, the sort we feel the need to watch. They make us feel better about ourselves. They bring out the morbid curiosity in us, even as we clutch at our pearls in faux-shock.

The Girl on the Train is not a book about likeable people we should all strive to be. It is a book about real, damaged people who each succumb to their vice of choice to get through the day.

And I couldn’t put it down.


The Girl on the Train is told from three points of view, though two feature more heavily than the last, each one of them unreliable and twisted in their own favour. This means that the reader can only hope to put the story together by combining the different parts of the story, adding a little salt, and siding with the person they most relate to, even as that loyalty shifts throughout the story.

Of our three narrators, we have an alcoholic, a cheater, and a liar. We have a mistress turned new wife, a cheating wife, and a jilted ex-wife whose husband cheated on her.

Rachel is the one we find ourselves relating to right from the start, not simply because she is the point of view character, but because she’s doing the commute in and out of the city each day, something a lot of us have been through at one time or another. She’s ticking off the days until the weekend, and finding things to keep her distracted. She likes to drown her sorrows after a hard day in the city.

I once read a book by a former alcoholic where she described giving oral sex to two different men, men she’s just met in a restaurant on a busy London high street. I read it and I thought, I’m not that bad. This is where the bar is set.

Throughout the book, the reader will find themselves proud and supportive of her and, in turn, disappointed in her once again.

If she isn’t here, she didn’t see or hear me come in last night, which means that she doesn’t know how bad I was. This shouldn’t matter, but it does: the sense of shame I feel about an incident is proportionate not just to the gravity of the situation, but also to the number of people who have witnessed it.


On the train, the tears come, and I don’t care if people are watching me; for all they know, my dog might have been run over. I might have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I might be a barren, divorced, soon-to-be-homeless alcoholic.


It seems Megan leads a rather glamorous life. Her husband doesn’t expect her to work, but she finds herself more and more lonely, so she makes attempts to get out of the house.

He follows me and I take off my clothes as I’m going up the stairs, and when we get there, when he pushes me down on the bed, I’m not even thinking about him, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t know that. I’m good enough to make him believe that it’s all about him.

Megan likes to feel like she’s in control, like she can make the people around her go crazy with missing her. Like they can’t live without her.

I could tell myself it’s not really a rejection. I could try to persuade myself that he’s just trying to do the right thing, morally and professionally. But I know that isn’t true. Or at least, it’s not the whole truth, because if you want someone badly enough, morals (and certainly professionalism) don’t come into it. You’ll do anything to have them. He just doesn’t want me badly enough.


Their lives all intersect, some in more natural ways than others and, from about thirty pages in, readers will find themselves unable to look away as each piece of this puzzle is revealed, from one point of view and then the other.

This was an incredibly engrossing read, which kept me guessing, and which should appeal to fans, and maybe even some non-fans, of Gone Girl. 

A fantastic offering for this author’s thriller debut, and it is sure to be one of the most talked about books of the year. 


You’re like one of those dogs, the unwanted ones that have been mistreated all their lives. You can kick them and kick them, but they’ll still come back to you, cringing and wagging their tails. Begging. Hoping that this time it’ll be different, that this time they’ll do something right and you’ll love them.’


Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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