Hawkins’ literary debut THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, published by Penguin Group’s Riverhead Books in 2015, quickly soared to the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List and was recently crowned the goodreads best mystery thriller of 2015. No big surprise, the book is currently being adapted into a film starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans and Justin Theroux.
Minor SPOILERS are ahead.
First off, I love the cover of this novel. The picture on the front is worth 90,000 words . . . or 326 pages. The image represents the view through the train window but also mirrors protagonist Rachel’s booze-induced perspective. The story unfolds entirely through Rachel’s and two other women’s mindsets.
Rachel Watson is the girl on the train – a stalkerish, lonely, alcoholic, divorced woman who’s lost her husband, home, job and self-respect. From the start, there’s something about her I like. Maybe I favor Cathy, Rachel’s only friend/roommate/landlady, who takes repeated pity on her and is the most genial character in the novel, though I’m not sure how many vomit spills on the carpet I could endure.
Taking the train into London every day, Rachel pretends to go to work, though she lost her job months ago after getting drunk during a three-hour lunch then insulting a client. The drinking started during her marriage to Tom, a charming and handsome young man who has since remarried and fathered a baby – something Rachel was unable to give him.
The train stops every day beside a row of quaint Victorian starter homes. Rachel has taken to building a fantasy around her favorite couple to watch – Jess and Jason, she names them. The perfect couple. Successful. Beautiful. Happy.
Megan Hipwell, aka Jess, is married to Scott, aka Jason, and their marriage is not so picture-perfect as it seems for the few seconds Rachel views it from the train tracks. Megan is a little girl, really, trapped in a woman’s body, who harbors secrets so ingrained, she’s afraid to share them with her husband. When Megan disappears, Rachel involves herself in the investigation, basing assumptions on the brief glimpses into the Hipwell’s lives.
Three doors down from the Hipwells, Rachel’s ex-husband Tom lives in her old house with his new wife and baby. Anna is the former mistress, now latter Mrs. Of the three women in the story, she’s the worst of the bunch. Her character is introduced as someone to side with because of Rachel’s stalkerish behavior – repeated phone calls, nasty emails, drunken visits, including a supposed kidnapping of Tom and Anna’s baby. But I pretty much dislike her from the start. She’s a husband-stealer who hides behind the excuse ‘we fell in love and couldn’t help ourselves.’ Pfft.
Hawkins’ writing is gutsy and straight forward. She gives us a protagonist we should dislike, but there’s an underlying intelligence and hint of pride in Rachel which keeps me rooting for her, hoping she’ll get her life in order and move on to sober pastures.
While technically a story of mystery and suspense, the characters dance around the concept of love – something none of them are capable of giving or receiving. Point of fact, this novel could be called an un-love story, and I loved every inebriated, distraught, misleading, manipulative word of it.