The Girl on The Train follows the perspective of three London-based women, Rachel, Megan and Anna as their intertwined lives fall into simultaneous disarray. Our protagonist Rachel is a broken woman on a self-destructive tirade of alcohol abuse after the destruction of her marriage due to her adulterer ex-husband Tom. Every day she catches the train into the city and observes a couple she’s dubbed “Jess and Jason” living her idealistic lifestyle, a lifestyle she feels she was robbed of. Until one day, she sees something forbidden and her inner demons leave her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Paula Hawkins is evidently far more intrigued by the uglier sides of the human condition than she is the more promising ones. As such, practically every character is despicable in some respect, from Rachel’s nosiness and constant interfering to the fierce spite of Tom’s ex-mistress and now wife Anna, there isn’t much in the way of redeeming features among the novel’s cast. Beyond the central plot, The Girl on The Train is a study on the kinds of horrendous acts the genders commit against each other and to themselves. The gender gap here is definitely noticeable and intentional. While it’s rooted in a female perspective, men play a pivotal role in The Girl on The Train as figures of both danger and guidance.
Though it is set in London, the story never allows its characters to break free of the grey dirge that is English suburbia. This claustrophobic setting gives life to a suffocating sense of tension which becomes the highlight of the novel. Not even the crowded streets of daytime London feel safe for Rachel to traverse, let alone the sparsely illuminated, desolate strips of housing much of the novel takes place in. The story works best when it bounces off this brilliant organic tension it developed but tends to wane when it devolves into typical “whodunit” thrills.
This, along with some niggling issues I had with Hawkin’s writing style and a slightly underwhelming climax keep The Girl on The Train from being the new-age classic it has been heralded as. These issues aside though, it is still a pulse-pounding Thriller that stirs into the grimiest parts of the human consciousness and revels in the subsequent carnage.