My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A tiding of magpies. One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. I’ve got a few of those.
3.5 stars. Not really spoilerish (but YMMV), but certainly long.
The girl on the train is alcoholic divorcee Rachel Watson. She commutes on the train everyday, except the weekends, to the city. She shares an apartment with an old acquaintance who worries after her due to her drinking problem. During her train trips, Rachel passes a former neighborhood of hers where her old home is visible from tracks. However, memories of her home cause her great pain, so she focuses on a residence a few houses down from her old home where a young couple resides. She spends a great deal of time making up a life for "Jess and Jason," as she calls them, a life that betrays what she once had. They're the perfect couple in her mind until one day she spies Jess kissing another man and later that day "Jess" ends up missing.
This book is written from the point-of-view of three women, Rachael Watson, Anna Watson, Rachel's ex-husband's new wife, and Megan Hipwell, the married young woman that Rachel calls "Jess" who turns up missing. Each woman has their issues that lend the story that unreliable narrator feel that so many books are going for these days. Readers try to sort through what's real and what's imagined as told by an alcoholic who has blackouts, an unapologetic cheater-turned-obsessive mom who has a self-serving canted view of things to suit her, and a woman with so much emotional baggage it boggles the mind how she's stayed sane for so long.
Making Rachel something of the hero of this story was different. She's certainly not an ideal hero, and her heroism is tempered by her own self-serving needs. However, much of the story rests on her, and she's not some mild-to-moderately attractive woman who's just a little down on her luck. No, she's a debilitating alcoholic who often spirals into the abyss and does things she can't remember. Her appearance, her mental health, her personal and professional relationships, her whole life has been affected by her alcoholism. She's flaky and has a penchant for lying without understanding why she does it. (Well, she does know why she does it, but she refuses to face the issue.) Megan's disappearance, however, adds meaning to her life in a strange way.
Megan's side of things serve to show us what type of person she really is, what type of person her husband really is, outside of Rachel's and Anna's (but especially Rachel's) limited view of her. While some of Rachel's fanciful musing on Megan and her husband actually do describe them, you find that Megan is far more troubled than Rachel can begin to understand. Megan's side of things also gives readers doubts and much to consider about the things leading up to her disappearance. It makes you question Rachel's version of the story quite a bit, even the parts the readers think are true.
Anna is one of my complaints. I never felt her parts were that significant. This was disappointing considering she was supposed to cast a different light on Rachel and her behavior while serving to point out some other strange details in the story. It felt so shallow, she felt so shallow, for most of the book, though, and then, when her POV became significant toward the end of the book, I starting feeling like these things should've been weaved into the story more instead of adding all the weight near the end.
The ending, while certainly not surprising, felt a bit rushed. Everything started happening all at one time instead of things carefully unfolding until the reader thinks "Aha!", and a few major coincidences occurred so rapidly in tandem to bring about its dramatic conclusion. There were some weakness as to the motivations and character revelations that left me dissatisfied.
The narration of this book was beautifully done by Clare Corbett (Rachel), Louise Brealey (Megan), and India Fisher (Anna). They prove through their strong narration that this book was made to be read. It feels more like a radio drama production rather meant for that purpose. I'm usually doing something else while I'm listening to audiobooks, but there were so many moments where I just stopped doing whatever it was I was doing completely to just listen to the story. That rarely happens to me.
This book has been compared to Gone Girl for its voice. I'm one of the last people on earth who hasn't read or watched Gone Girl, so I can't make any comparisons to it. However, I can say that this certainly has "Made for Movie" all over it, and it'd likely be a movie that made viewers hold their breaths in anticipation if done right. This is a riveting story that's hard to put down. The only reason I didn't finish it in one sitting is because I started reading it late one evening and had to rest for work the next morning.
Hawkins' writing style is lyrical, haunting even, without making the story drag. I appreciated that she used these three troubled women to tell the story rather than trying to give it to us from some rational mind who would've long stopped this madness long before things got interesting. There were so many moments when I wanted to yell at these characters to get it together. There were moments when I felt like I was sinking under their emotional turmoil. That's important. That means I'm invested in the story. Despite any complaints that I had with the story, it was a fine showing.
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