The hype surrounding Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller novel, The Girl on the Train, made it impossible for anyone to ignore its existence. With comparisons being drawn to Gone Girl, anyone would be tempted to see whether the novel lives up to its hype. I find myself being drawn to the book simply by its title. It’s not the most original titles – there are two different movies, if I’m not mistaken, bearing the same title. But when you forget for a moment that the book is classified under “mystery thriller”, then the book could almost describe me. Or anyone else we know. The notion that the title could refer to anyone of us the readers is alluring in a romantic way.
Except that the story is really not. Romantic, alluring, or otherwise. It’s actually a sad and depressing story narrated by three women who have serious problems in their lives. Two are battling depression, and the last one lives in fear and suspicion. Then again, what do you expect when the main narrator, whom we can call the main character of this story, is a divorced alcoholic who’s let herself and her life go into complete and utter ruin?
To be completely honest, it’s filmsy. Trying to solve a mystery through the accounts of an alcoholic who experience blackouts is an obvious ploy to confuse readers. A more careful reader will be able to to see through the shroud, though, by assuming that some events that Rachel tells are red herring. This is what I did and managed to get through to heart of the matter before I even got halfway to the book. I don’t say this to be boastful, but to be critical of how mystery writers build their case. If you’re trying to bamboozle your readers, don’t. Many readers are smart, and they, like me do not appreciate being taken for a fool.
Fortunately, Rachel herself is an intriguing character. She’s thoroughly unlikable at first, and it’s hard to go thorough her drunken episodes with her. Addicts are always hard to make sympathetic but Rachel eventually prevails by showing determination to get to the bottom of the mystery. The psychological aspect of someone who abuses substance and has been abused by her environment is the reason why I wanted to stick with her until the end, no matter how disgusting i think she’s behaving. There’s no “Girl Power” winning moment here but in the end you can see how Rachel finally achieves the strength needed for her to overcome everything from her dependence of alcohol to the male affection it’s quite a shining moment to bask in.
But don’t let me discourage you. They are still very terrifying. How can anyone be so despicable? Hawkins doesn’t answer it – she gives us neither rhyme nor reason for the murderer’s crime – and frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that the act was done and we are all about by it. Perhaps more for some people it for others. but the conclusion is quire explosive even for anyone’s standard.
So perhaps this book is not so much a “mystery” but simply a “thriller”. I wouldn’t say it’s brilliantly constructed mystery but it’s a thrilling ride to go through with a main character who’s so flawed that she mostly makes you want to scream at her. If you get pulled into the fragility of her mind like I did, you might find something more. But if you’re waiting for an Amy Dunne – like ballsiness and sheer brilliance, you definitely won’t find anything of the like. For one thing, The Girl on the Train is a much subtler book than its American counterpart. It’s not a riot, but a quiet protest, just dark. And heavy, and messy, and painful.