Book Review: The Girl on the Train

This month's pick for #thetravelinglibrary book club was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. An interesting, pretty entertaining read, but I did have a few issues with this book. *SPOILER ALERT: if you didn't read the book but are planning to, please skip my review!

One of the wonderful elements of this book is the changing narration. By switching points of view throughout the novel, Hawkins delivers multiple perspectives and voices and adds interest to the plot. Hawkins's writing style is descriptive and suspenseful, albeit long-winded at times. She captures your attention by omitting major details, having her characters speculate over unanswered situations and switching up her narrator in order to confuse the reader. 

But she also includes many paragraphs that are unnecessary to the plot of the novel. This book is a very entertaining read, but it doesn't require you to pay super close attention. I think that's what bothered me most. When I first started reading, I paid attention to dates, times, minute details, thinking they'd be pertinent to solving the mystery. I quickly realized it wasn't essential to do so; I could easily skim over the filler paragraphs and jump right into the action without missing a beat. This also made the plot more predictable. Halfway through the book, I was pretty certain I knew who had murdered Megan, and my suspicions were later confirmed.

In regards to character development, there wasn't much. Most of the characters remain static during the course of the book--Rachel doesn't successfully overcomes her alcoholism until the very end (I'm talking last scene), Anna remains hostile and jealous, and Megan is a confused and bitter individual up until her untimely death. Although Tom and Scott's true behaviors are hidden at first, eventually they reveal themselves; but I wouldn't categorize this as development. 

At the same time, there were some character (and plot) fallacies that caught my attention. For example, after Rachel comes to after being knocked out by Tom, she reaches for a corkscrew in a kitchen drawer and instantly becomes confident, actually smiling and responding to his statements with sarcasm and wit before she plunges the corkscrew into his side. This just struck me as odd; as a highly unstable individual who not only loved Tom until this very day but was subject to Tom's abuse for years, suddenly she's a completely different person--cocky, strong and condescending. While it's likely she'd have an adrenaline rush during a dire situation, I felt she would have been more nervous to stab Tom with the corkscrew, more sneaky, hesitant and trembling. It seemed out of character for her. 

When Tom discovers Anna and Rachel know the truth about him, he locks them in the house and proceeds to nearly brag about the murder, showing almost no remorse for his actions. I felt that this was just added to get the reader caught up--an easy place to finally fit in the narrative of Megan's death and build disdain for Tom's character. What did Tom really think he could do to them in the house in broad daylight? It seemed out of place. There would be too many loose ends to tie up if he actually killed them. Although fiction, this is a novel that aims to mimic reality, so this scene pulled me out of the story and made me remember it was just that--a story. 

There were a few other oddities that didn't add up: Rachel's affair with Scott (when he clearly knew she was an unstable drunk, and kind of a stalker). The case of Tom's parents, which felt like filler detail to the plot. Megan's narrative, which admitted the 'love' she felt for her therapist but failed to hint at any sort of spark with Tom (though it was easy to assume without it). The fact that the cops believe Anna's testament immediately and didn't seem to really question Rachel killing Tom, when they knew she was obsessed with him previously. Did they find the phone? How did Anna and Megan end up proving Tom's guilt? 

Overall, I did enjoy reading the book. It grew to be fast-paced, there was a lot of suspense and uncertainty, and even with the unedited details, I liked Hawkin's style of writing for the most part. It's only when I step back and analyze the novel from an academic standpoint that I recognize its shortcomings. If you're looking to read something entertaining, this is a great book. If you're looking for a stimulating psychological novel, this isn't quite it. 

I recently noticed that The Girl on the Train is Hawkin's first novel. I must say, if this were my first novel, I'd be might proud of myself. It's a great start, and I'm confident that her books will develop more fully in the future. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the book. And join us in April when we read The Glass Castle by Jeannete Walls.