Library Director’s Notebook
Hemingway once said that journalism is a great training ground for novelists. He would seem to be right as far as Paula Hawkins the author of The Girl on the Train goes. The Girl on the Train is Hawkins’ first novel, but she writes like someone completely in control of narrative and dialogue, someone who knows how to keep a firm grip on the reader’s tautly-drawn nerves, with each disturbing revelation.
The story is mostly told through the somewhat befuddled and often self-pitying point of view of Rachael, a recently divorced, quite unhappy young woman who is sliding headfirst down the slippery slope of serious alcoholism. Because of her drinking problem, Rachael is uncertain of her own thoughts and frequently second-guesses her own observations. Her memories are often clouded and frightening. Others, knowing of her increasingly serious bouts with alcohol also question her perceptions and memories. Thus, when Rachael begins to suspect foul play regarding a young woman she repeatedly observes from her seat on a local commuter train, very little credence is given to her suspicions.
Things only get worse when Megan, the young woman Rachael has covertly watched and greatly envied, goes missing, presumably murdered, either by her husband or her lover. Rachael tries hard to let go of her fantasies about the ideal life she thought Megan had lived and instead tries to come to grips with the realities of the murdered woman’s life. Eager to redeem herself in the eyes of her disgusted friends and her former husband and his new wife, Rachael makes contact with Scott, Megan’s husband and number one murder suspect. But because of her awkwardness and uncertainty, as well as the vagueness of her memories regarding the night of the murder, Rachael finds herself in a situation that puts her at odds with everyone, including the police, and potentially makes her a threat to the murderer, who might come looking for her next.
The Girl on the Train is intense and relentless. Reading it is a rather vertiginous experience since nothing is as it first appears, and the point of view keeps shifting. Who is telling the truth? Who can be trusted? I mentioned Hemingway early in this review; I think Hitchcock also comes to mind because Girl on the Train would certainly make a satisfying thriller film, directed by the master, who would have chortled appreciatively over the characters, the headlong pacing, and the surprising, disturbing climax.