The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This review first appeared in The Canon City Daily Record.

I love to drive through town just as the sun goes down and the lights inside the houses are turned on. I can see into the homes. I see kids around the table, heads bent over homework. I see a blue light reflected in a man's glasses as he sits at a computer. I see a woman laughing, coaxing hair behind her ear. A front door opens, letting out a dog, allowing me to see furniture, pictures on the walls, dishes in the sink. I've seen so much, yet I've never seen foul play.

Rachel Watson, The Girl on the Train, passing through the outskirts of London, looks through windows, too. She sees a couple - a "golden couple" - on her morning and evening rides. She feels connected with them, creates idealized stories about them, imagines she really knows them. And then something unexpected happens - something that does not match her fantasy of this couple. There is a news report that suggests dark, suspicious events. Lonely Rachel may have answers. But can her questionable perspective be trusted? This startling spine-chiller has only just begun.

Saying too much may give away important details, for this story echoes Hitchcock's mastery of the psychological thriller. The details are the story. Facts cleverly unfold within the novel, keeping the reader entertained, convinced - only to be surprised, again, by the ending. Suspense is part of the compelling magic of this book.

The Girl on the Train is representative of a new genre: thrillers concerning the domestic lives of women. Themes of motherhood and marriage feature prominently, the backbone of Ms. Hawkins's fast-paced story. It has been compared to another New York Times Bestseller, Gone Girl. These novels are relatable, examining the lives accepted as the norm, and bringing crimes against women to the discussion. But this isn't a feminist diatribe. This is a story about a woman who must overcome her blemished past in order to solve a fatal mystery.

The pacing of the unpredictable plot overlaps the steadying lull of a train - morning and evening. It is narrated, alternately, by three different women, each with a unique perspective on the events at hand. Rachel, Megan, and Anna are each convincingly and painfully flawed without being feminine archetypes. They are complex, lives entangling.

Paula Hawkins began her writing career as a journalist in London. While The Girl on the Train is her first thriller, she has also written under a pen-name, Amy Silver. Her earlier works were romantic comedies, but she favors writing tragedies in contemporary settings. And here, in this unconventional work, it is obvious she has found her niche.

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