Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.
—The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
That’s Rachel, the main character in Paula Hawkins’ hit thriller The Girl on the Train, lamenting her alcoholism, her early morning drinking habits. She likes to drink on the train on the way into the city, she likes to drink on the way home. This isn’t working well for Rachel–her life, you could say, is in shambles.
When the train stops, she peers through the windows at a beautiful home, number fifteen, her favorite. A bit of a peeping tom, or just a harmless fantasist, Rachel gazes upon the beautiful couple within. She admires them, their perfect lives. She glances at the wife on the balcony, the husband getting ready for work.
When the woman from number fifteen appears on the news as Meagan, gone missing, Rachel’s fantasist ways kick into action. She inserts herself in the investigation, becoming miraculously, eerily close to Scott, the missing woman’s desperate husband. Rachel’s own troubles, bumps and bruises she can’t remember receiving, evenings lost to drink that she knows didn’t go well, hang heavy over her desire to help. She hopes those blanks don’t somehow coincide with Megan’s disappearance.
The Girl on the Train alternates with each of the female characters narrating, Rachel at the center, and Megan and her neighbor, Anna, coming into and out of focus. I found this confusing at the start. I was listening on audiobook, and all the pert names blurred together (Jess, Rachel, Anna, Kathy, Megan). Once I attached a name to a character in the story, I was off and running.
Comparisons to Gone Girl are coming hot and heavy, but where Gone Girl is twisty, The Girl on the Train is slow and stabbing, with Rachel desperately flailing to fill in her own blank spaces. The endless fans of Gone Girl will surely enjoy The Girl on the Train. But as this awesome Irish Times article points out, this isn’t just the era of Gillian Flynn. This is an era of women writing women-driven thrillers: Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Megan Abbott, Samantha Hayes. And now, Paula Hawkins.