Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Girl On The Train - Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train
Paula Hawkins
Riverhead Books
Rachel takes the train every day.  Every day, on her way to and from London, she watches for a row of houses whose back gardens face the tracks.  Every day, the commuter train stops at a signal near the houses, allowing Rachel a view of these homes and, sometimes, the people inside them.  In one of those houses lives a good-looking couple.  Rachel calls them Jess and Jason.  She sees them so often, she’s invented lives for them.  Their lives are full of friends and work; and they’re very happy together.  Rachel can tell, because Jason often seems very protective of Jess.

She can picture the inside of their house, because she used to live just a few houses down the road.  But that was two years ago, when she was married to Tom.  She never knew Jason and Jess; they moved in after her divorce and move to a single bedroom in the home of a friend from school.  Rachel takes a real sense of comfort in watching the happy couple, day to day.  Until the day that destroys her entire scenario.  As the train stops for a moment at the signal, Rachel sees Jess on the back terrace, kissing a man who is clearly not Jason. 
Soon after, the papers report that Megan (Rachel’s “Jess,”) has disappeared.  She vanished without a trace.  Of course, the husband is the primary suspect.  No one seems to know about the other man, the one Rachel saw.  Should she tell the police?  Will they believe her?  It was only a moment in passing, seen from a train.  But what if Megan is never found?  What if the husband is unjustly charged because no one else knows about this other man?  What if her information means nothing, and she ends up simply confusing the investigation?  Despite misgivings, Rachel makes her report to the police, and finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the mystery of the disappearance; and the lives of the people surrounding Megan and her husband.
Each character reports events from her unique point of view.  Each one gives emphasis and meaning to each event or encounter based on her personal feelings.  As we all do, every day.  Clearly, some interpretations are more accurate than others.  Some are simple mistakes.  Some are colored by intense emotion; some are blurred or eradicated by alcohol.  Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s former husband, Tom, contributes her own version of events, understandably colored by her own feelings about Rachel.  It’s a testament to this author’s skill that each person comes off as flawed (some more deeply than others) but completely human.  Here, presented in clear prose, is the difference between people in public, and people behind closed doors.  For some, there may be no real difference.  For others, the differences can be profound.
The book is written in parallel chronological order, with different sections narrated by different characters.  Rachel’s story begins a few days before she sees the strange man from the train.  Megan’s story begins roughly a year before that time.  Far from being confusing, I found that the device of changing points-of-view (and time) only made me more eager to keep turning the pages.  The reading experience here is much different than the usual straightforward timeline and all the more exciting for it.   By the time Megan’s narrative catches up with the present, the truth of events becomes clear to the reader.  Until then, it’s very much a mystery of motives and flawed memories. 
Rating: 9
January 2015
ISBN# 978-1-59463-366-9 (hardcover)


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