British based author Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train is a thriller with a number of surprising and unsavoury twists. Told through the eyes of three women--Rachel, Megan and Anne--we read of the mysterious disappearance of Megan and the connection that all three women have to one charismatic, but manipulative and unscrupulous man.
The novel opens with Rachel, a thirty-something woman whose life is in tatters following the end of her marriage to Tom. She believes the divorce is her fault and is told frequently so by her husband. An alcoholic, Rachel has been fired from her job and spends her days travelling back and forward on the train, which takes her past the home of a lovely couple who she dubs Jess and Jason. Rachel projects any number of wonderful qualities on the pair and experiences a type of wish fulfilment through what she imagines their life to be like. Rachel's life takes a surprise turn when she discovers through the media that Jess is actually named Megan and that she has just been reported missing by her husband. On the night before Megan disappeared, Rachel saw her from the train embracing another man that was not her husband. Having evidence that she can give to the police and to Megan's husband, Scott, gives Rachel a sense of importance that she has not experienced for some time, but how can she explain the cuts and bruises on her body and the fact that she was in the area at the time when Megan disappeared? The story is further complicated by those of Megan (told in flashback,) and that of Anne, a woman who is blinded by her love for her husband and child, and fearful of her husband's ex-wife who always seems to be hanging around.
Reading a high profile thriller months after its release is always a bit risky. There is always the fear that something so hyped is not going to live up to expectations. And, honestly, what really makes this book brilliant is not so much the discovery of who the real killer is. The brilliance does not the twists and turns, or in the ending. The real brilliance lies in Hawkins sensitive and clever portrayal of Rachel.
Rachel is a mess. Rachel is not easy to like. Rachel needs to keep her nose out of other peoples' business. Rachel is uncomfortable to read about. But learning about her life, discovering how she got to that point and developing not so much empathy as understanding about her, was a wonderful journey to undertake as a reader. Rachel may be a victim of her own bad choices, but she is also the victim of a vile and manipulative man as, indeed, all three women in this story are. We also get a small glimpse of Scott, who is a victim of a vile and manipulative woman.
The Girl on the Train offers an unflinching view of human nature and how humans can hurt one another and delude themselves. Recommended.