Book: The Girl on the Train
Publisher: Paula Hawkins Random House
Price: Rs 599
As you’re reading Paula Hawkins’s debut thriller in great gulps, much like the way her protagonist Rachel Watson, an alcoholic, quaffs her gin and tonics, you can almost hear movie producers in America knock themselves out of their chairs in a great rush to sign a movie deal — Dreamworks won that race. An unreliable narrator. A missing woman. Is the husband a protector or perpetrator? Rings a bell? The Girl on the Train is being hyped as the new Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestselling novel that could have escaped you only if you were living under a rock.
Hawkins chooses an original premise: After losing her husband to another woman as well as her job at a PR firm in London, Rachel is teetering on the edge of a tenebrific abyss. Unable to admit her failures to her flatmate Cathy, Rachel keeps up appearances by taking the train from Ashbury into London and back every day. At a signal in Euston where the train stops very close to her old neighbourhood, Rachel looks out of her window and into a happily married couple’s home — it reminds her of life with her ex-husband Tom. The daily glimpses offer her a chance to live vicariously; her loneliness is in stark contrast to the couple’s togetherness. But when news breaks that the wife is missing, Rachel knows that she must come forward with crucial information that could lead to her recovery. If only things were that easy: her alcoholism has rendered her an unreliable witness, her own secrets are coming to light and in spite of her best intentions to help others, Rachel is falling apart.
The Girl on the Train is an impressive debut and Rachel is an absolutely compelling character. Inciting sympathy and exasperation in equal measure, she oscillates between patches of sobriety and staggering drunkenness, memory and imagination, self-sabotage and redemption. A former financial journalist, Hawkins was inspired by her daily commute to London and how it allowed for a great deal of voyeurism; the idea for the book stayed with her. And although the plot sounds very much like Flynn’s, Hawkins keeps the narrative focused on Rachel and the other female characters.
For those who loved Gone Girl, this one might lack punch. The writing isn’t as sharp as it could be, and Hawkins displays little of Flynn’s sophistication in charting out her whodunit, failing to provide a layered look into how desperately we pursue individual happiness, never mind the price we must pay.