Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins



published 2015




Girl on the Train carriage 1Girl on the Train carriage 3Girl on the Train backgarden 2
Girl on the Train carriage 2
 

My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them from this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment. There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.

Someone’s phone is ringing, an incongruously joyful and upbeat song. They’re slow to answer, it jingles on and on around me. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal. I try not to look up, I try to read thefree newspaper I was handed on my way into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned.

 
observations: This is the book that triggered my recent Guardian piece on what you might see out of a train window. It’s been a massively successful thriller, a bestseller in the UK and the USA, and is constantly described as ‘this year’s Gone Girl.’

It’s certainly a compelling read – I knocked it off in a few happy hours, and it was very entertaining. That’s despite the fact that it’s a dark and quite gloomy book. There are three alternating narrators, and the main one is an extremely unhappy alcoholic going through a very bad time – which makes her a very convincing unreliable narrator. Another of the narrators, in a different timeframe, seems to be doomed to be the victim of whatever is going on. The book is not full of jokes.

But it is the perfect holiday read. Experienced crime readers will not be astounded by anything that happens in it - there is a very small cast of characters and we naturally suspect everyone. I thought the third narrator was very much third-best - but all three were rounded characters, and I liked the way they were all far from perfect. Hawkins managed to make them reasonably distinct – quite an achievement when they were very similar types, of similar age.

I suspect this isn’t a book that will stick in the memory, there was nothing incredibly striking about it. Although if I had the author here I would want to ask her a key question: exactly what sort of accommodation did Rachel live in? It is variously described as a duplex (not a common term in the UK), a flat and a house, and it has stairs. In normal UK usage it would not be a flat if it has two stories. What bothers me (as ever) is that all the wonderful editors and readers she thanks – none of them was reading closely enough to pick up on this?

But it was a clever story, and I liked poor miserable Rachel, and the idea of the train-spying, and the houses with gardens running down to the railway line – I live in one of those myself. It is a very, very English book – the whole deal of the commute, the outer London suburbs, the rather dim low-rent lives, seemed authentic to me. So it is particularly impressive that it has done so well in the USA. I’d have thought it might be too much un-dashing realism – especially in regards to the unattractive, overweight, alcoholic heroine. It will be very interesting to see which Hollywood actresses are queuing up to play her in the inevitable film.

The pictures were taken by me on the train to London.








18 comments:

  1. I've read good things about this one, Moira. It's hard to pull off the unreliable narrator successfully; I'm glad Hawkins seems to do so here. That is really interesting about the whole duplex/apartment/flat question. To me it's fascinating how each of those words has a very distinct meaning. You would indeed have thought an editor would catch that. Still, that's minor; glad you thought the book a good read.

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    1. A good entertaining thriller, Margot - it's just my inner pedant holding me back! (Which I think you understand...)

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  2. Nice photos Moira. I detected diligently but could not find you in the photos. No selfies?

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    1. You are correct Bill, I think it's true to say that I have never taken a selfie. Just having a camera on a phone seems advance to me...

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  3. Moira, those are all lovely pictures. The last "train" mystery I read was "The Rome Express" by Arthur Griffiths (1907) which also had only a few characters. I read it in a couple of sittings. I think, what makes trains an excellent setting for mysteries is that most of us travel by trains. India, and Mumbai in particular, would come to a standstill if it were not for long-distance and suburban trains.

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    1. 1907 - that must have been fascinating. I am always a fan of any books with a train setting. And the train systems of India often turn up in books...

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  4. Great piece! I agree that there's something compelling about trains as mystery settings - I think it's something to do with it all being so intimate yet anonymous at the same time. I had a similar reaction to The Girl on the Train - given all the buzz I expected to be blown away a bit more, but it was definitely solid and entertaining.

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    1. Yes, you sum it up really well Claire. But I will always give leeway to a book with train settings....

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  5. I think my problem with this book is all the buzz... I resist books like that. I think Glen was interested but hasn't gone so far as to get a copy. Maybe at the book sale, although it will be a year or two before it would show up on the inexpensive tables.

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    1. I know what you mean, I decided to read it despite the buzz. It will turn up sooner or later, especially if (as seems certain) there's a film.

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  6. Undecided on this one, probably not I think.

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    1. Very thriller-ish, but very girly. And you have enough books already Col.

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  7. This review is prodding me toward reading this book. I usually don't like unreliable narrators, but I may give this one a chance.

    It's been at the top of the NY Times bestseller list and, as you and others say, there is a lot of buzz about it -- and I tend to stay away from these types of best-sellers, like Gone Girl. But your review invoked my curiosity so I may give it a go.

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    1. I know just what you mean about being put off by the hype, and by the unreliable narrator, but I was glad that in the end the balance tipped in favour of reading it.

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  8. It will stick in my memory Moira but not for the right reasons...I hated just about every word of it (read it for book club, otherwise I'd have abandoned it long before the end). I am always a bit befuddled when I have such a different reaction to the one everyone else is having. Happily there are plenty of other train mysteries for me to enjoy :)

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    1. Yes I know what you mean, I often feel at odds with the other reviewers, but this one did do it for me. Perhaps because the setting was so familiar - it was all very imaginable on my regular train trips to London. And I thought Rachel, the bad narrator, made a change. Each to her own... I did really enjoy your review over at Reactions to Reading, http://reactionstoreading.com/2015/05/19/review-the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins/, and would recommend others to go over there to read it.

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  9. In fairness, I have a two-floor flat within a block of plats, but duplex is certainly quite alien. I hope it is better than GONE GIRL, with all due respect! Looking forward to the movie version

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    1. I think the proper Brit word is 'masionette', but you don't hear that so much....
      It's a year since I read it, and tbh I can't remember all that much about it. But it was a good honest thriller for reading on the train.

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