Tuesday, 5 May 2015
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
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.