Yesterday, I finished reading the thriller, ‘The Girl on the Train’, by Paula Hawkins, and I must say that this was a complete page-turner from the very beginning. Before I continue, please note that the following review does contain spoilers. So if you are planning to read the book I advise you stop reading now. As some of you may be aware from my previous book posts, I tend to analyse and review books from a writer’s perspective; as a means to teach me to become a better writer, and this can sometimes mean giving away elements of the book.
The first thing that grabbed my attention with this book (and actually made me buy the book) was the title, and the fact that I am also ‘a girl on the train!’ I have commuted on trains into London for eight years now, and I have used different lines on the London Underground, depending on where I have lived. From the very first description of setting in the book, I was reminded of Putney Bridge (on the District line) and my days of looking out of the train windows at the Victorian houses and the roof terraces. The fact that you can see up-close into the gardens and windows of the houses had a strong link with the real setting in the novel. I believe that the subject of the train, commuting, and the passing of numerous houses on the journey is quite a universal subject in which every human can relate. I also believe that the universal theme is what makes the book so successful. It certainly makes me think of my own work and themes as a writer – would I want my work to relate to a majority of people, or the entire world?
The Girl on the Train is a straight-forward read when it comes to the thriller genre. The reading focuses entirely on the characters and plot, which every great novel should do. There are no over-arty sentences or paragraphs, and there are certainly no over-the-top descriptions, as with some other books that I have read in the genre. Although I am a lover of poetry and creative descriptions, there is a time and place when it comes to novels. I find that sometimes over-used description can have a detrimental effect on the progress of the story, slow it down, and often irritate me as a reader. I think a great solution is to weave in the beautiful settings and descriptions through the actions, which I think this novel does brilliantly.
The book follows the perspective of three women. Rachel is the lead character ‘the girl on the train’, and she becomes entwined in the lives of Megan and Anna, from what she witnesses on the train, on her daily commute. As a trio of characters, together they slowly reveal a love/murder mystery, and this occurs through different time-frames (dates and times which are printed on the heading of each chapter). I particularly love the first-person perspective in writing and it works wonderfully with these three characters; each of them has their own unique voice and personality, yet there is a similarity in voice that ties them together. Although the first person can be a restrictive point-of-view (in that you only get to experience the story through that characters eyes and thoughts) you do tend to get the strongest connection between character and reader with this view-point – because it is as though the character is talking to us, the reader, directly. I think had Paula only told us the story from Rachel’s perspective then the book would have certainly felt restricted, but the fact that we have three characters narrate, makes the novel much more rounded and colourful. And whilst I am speaking of characters, another element I particularly loved about this book was the small number of characters. There were just enough to make the novel interesting, yet not too many characters which can make us feel disconnected and confused.
There was one element in the book that I did find rather annoying, and this was the author’s tendency to over-mention Rachel’s alcoholism. Rachel has an alcohol addiction, which although is very relevant to the story and how she acts as a character, the repetitive ‘nipping to the off-license’ and ‘going to the fridge to grab wine’ scenes became irritating. When you find yourself feeling this way when reading, you have to ask yourself, as a reader and a writer, ‘Is there a need to mention it again? Does it do anything for the story, move the scene forward? How many times do we need to be told this? Readers are intelligent, and sometimes it need only take several mentions to get us to be aware of the character’s habit. I think it was important for us to be aware that Rachel was an alcoholic, and I can understand the repetitiveness to a certain degree, but I think this was one thing that was negative about the read, mainly because it took my thoughts away from the story.
Although I loved the book and it had me gripped, I must admit that I did find the ending to be rather rushed and very ‘convenient’. I got the impression that the author had written the ending first, as many authors do, and this was probably because of the faster pacing towards the end. The wrapping up of loose ends and any holes were perfectly applied by Paula, but I did find that the end suddenly ‘jumped’, just to meet the advice of the writing books. For instance, we know a character must nearly always change and learn something by the end of the story, but Rachel suddenly gives up alcohol for 12 weeks and moves to a new place without any natural push from the plot.
Overall, this was a great book, and I highly recommend it. Especially if you like your characters to be a little strange and if you like a little mystery that needs to be unravelled.
This is the ninth book that I have read this year, and I am so delighted to have read it before the movie is released in the UK in October – I can’t wait to see it! It is always a pleasure to get to read the book before the movie – especially when you get those spoilers whom tell you about the movie and end up ruining the book.
Until next time,