It’s time to play a game of “People Watching: Extreme Edition” (My thoughts on The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins)
Right off the bat, I have to say that I loved this book. However, I have to admit that I’ve kind of been dreading writing this review since The Girl on the Train is a mystery novel. When it comes to books in the mystery genre, I think it’s really important for the reader to be surprised by the book and all of its twists and turns when they’re reading it. Personally, I was really surprised by some of the plot twists in The Girl on the Train, and I would hate rob people of the chance to also be surprised by this book.
When it comes to the people that I’ve encountered online who have said that they didn’t like The Girl on the Train, I’d say that the most common reason people give as to why they didn’t like this book is because none of the characters are entirely likable. I’d say that’s a perfectly valid reason for somebody to not like a book, TV show, or a movie. After reading the book, I have to say that I definitely agree with the assessment that none of characters in this book are truly likable, and I can see why that would cause people to not like this book.
Personally, a book, TV show or a movie having characters that aren’t necessarily very likable doesn’t always cause me to not enjoy it. I think a story featuring unlikable characters can still be very enjoyable, especially in the hands of good writers, and if the characters are intentionally being written as unlikable or bad people. For example, when it comes to my favorite TV shows, my favorite comedy is without question It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. All of the characters on that show are written as being rather horrible people, with Dennis quite possibly being a sociopath, and yet that’s a big part of the show’s appeal when it comes to people who like the show. A critic actually once described It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as being, “Seinfeld on crack”. As someone who’s also a big fan of Seinfeld and was never bothered by the fact that Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were all rather selfish and horrible people, I think that’s the perfect way to describe It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in just one sentence, but I digress.
What can cause me to not like a TV show, movie, or this case a book, that has characters that aren’t very likable people, is when the characters aren’t written with the intention of being viewed by the reader as a bad or unlikable person. If they just end up coming across as being extremely unlikable due to bad writing, that can really ruin a TV show, movie, or a book for me. When I think about fictional characters coming across as being unlikable people due bad writing, the first examples that I always think of these days would be Ana Steele and Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades trilogy and Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian by E.L. James. While I’m not 100% certain, I’m pretty sure that E.L. James didn’t write the Fifty Shades trilogy and Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian with the intention of Ana and Christian being viewed by the reader as horrible and annoying people. That just happened because E.L. James is a terrible writer. To be fair, if you’ve read my review of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, then it should be clear that I actually liked Ana in that book and the book itself.
Going back to The Girl on the Train, even though I would consider this book to be an ensemble piece, Rachel is essentially the main character of book since she’s the titular “Girl on the Train”. Rachel is also the most likable and sympathetic character in the book, in my humble opinion. She’s also really down on her luck throughout the book. Her husband, Tom, left her for a woman named Anna that he had an affair with while they were still married. Tom and Anna are now married and have a daughter named Evie. It’s pretty clear that Rachel is a full-blown alcoholic right from the beginning of the book. Rachel got fired from her job in public relations after she got drunk while she was having lunch with a very important client, ruining the deal in the process. Rachel now spends her days riding the train, and there’s a couple that lives in a house near the house that she and Tom lived in when they were married. Rachel becomes deeply invested in the couple, despite the fact that she’s never even met them, and she doesn’t even know what their names are. One of the main driving forces of the book is the fact that Rachel has really taken the game or the concept of people watching to the extreme when it comes to how she feels about the couple that she observes every time the train goes by their house.
Since Rachel has never actually met the couple, she refers to them as “Jess and Jason”, and imagines them as having the perfect life. When the story changes to “Jess’” point of view, it’s revealed that her name is actually Megan, while “Jason” is actually Scott, and their marriage is far from perfect. That being said, I have to say that I also really like Megan, because I thought that she was an incredibly fascinating character. I feel like I should also mention that Megan came across to me as being the kind of character that you would have expected to see on Desperate Housewives. Megan by her own admission has given Scott reason to not completely trust her in the past, and he definitely seems to genuinely have trouble trusting her throughout the book.
Much like Rachel, Megan is also not an entirely likable person. However, what got me feeling invested in Megan as a character is the fact that she has a great deal of complexity to her. She suffers from anxiety, which leads her to see a therapist, and I also have to wonder if she suffers from depression. That’s something that’s never confirmed or disproven though. As far as the characters’ backstories go, I’d say that Megan’s backstory is the most interesting. That being said, I don’t really want to go into any specifics about her past, because I feel like that might take away from people’s enjoyment of the book.
While I never thought that the story was genuinely boring or slow, what really gets the story going, and kicks things into high gear is the fact that one day Rachel sees Megan kissing another man. Because she has become so invested in Megan and Scott’s lives, this upsets her greatly, and it definitely plays a part in Rachel, Megan and Anna’s lives slowly starting to collide with one another’s.
The only time the fact that none of characters in the book are truly likable people started to really annoy me and really pissed me off were the parts that were written from Anna’s point of view. In a book where the two other main characters really had some depth and complexity to them, Anna really stood out as one of the book’s biggest weaknesses like a sore thumb. The reason the character Anna stands out as one of the book’s flaws is because she’s a very one-dimensional character with nothing to make the reader like her or care about her once she’s formally introduced. Perhaps this will seem like a bizarre thing to mention, but when it comes to how I feel about Anna, one thing that came to mind as I was reading the book and my thoughts regarding Anna changed as the story progressed was the TV show Grey’s Anatomy and Meredith Grey’s line about Penny, the doctor that “killed” Derek from the episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, which aired a few weeks ago, “Now she’s a person.”
Despite the fact that I knew that Anna was essentially a home wrecker for having an affair with Tom, I still found myself having a certain amount of sympathy for her before she was formally introduced in the book. Whenever Tom called Rachel to tell her how much she was upsetting Anna by constantly calling them, it really made me wonder what it must be like for any one who marries somebody that’s been married before and has an ex-husband or an ex-wife that’s still hung up on them and refuses to leave their ex and his or her new family alone. However, as soon as I got to the first chapter that was written from Anna’s point of view, I immediately lost all sympathy that I had had for Anna once I saw what she was really like. For some reason, it was a lot easier for me to humanize Anna and feel sorry for her before I got to the first chapter that was written from her point of view. Unfortunately, seeing what she was actually like and seeing what a horrible person she was quickly made me stop feeling any sort of compassion for her. After all, she seems to feel absolutely no shame or remorse for the pain that she and Tom caused Rachel by having an affair while Tom and Rachel were still married.
Given how shallow and self-centered Anna is, I’m honestly really surprised that she’d have any desire to have kids and be mom. While I’m not a parent myself, I still know that being a parent often requires a great deal of time and sacrifice. Anna just doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would realistically want to make the sacrifices that come with being a parent. While Rachel by her own admission hadn’t exactly made life easy for Tom when they were married and were trying to have a baby, I’m still completely and utterly baffled when it comes to trying to understand what Tom ever saw in Anna that made him want to leave Rachel for her.
There’s nothing about Anna’s personality or the way she treats Tom throughout the book that makes me think it was the way she treated him that initially drew him to her when they started having an affair. If you ask me, while Rachel definitely has a lot of problems, I still think that she’s a better person than Anna is. If the way Rachel was handling their unsuccessful attempts at trying to have a baby made dealing with her feel like a burden to Tom, then I’m even more confused as to why he thought that Anna was any better than Rachel. If you ask me, Anna seems like she would be even more of an insufferable handful for Tom to deal with than Rachel does. However, as the book continued, it became more and more clear to me that Tom was also pretty messed up and not somebody that I’d want the best for.
The story itself had really great pacing and never really dragged in my opinion. The only parts of the book that were hard for me to get through were the chapters that were written from Anna’s point of view. That was pretty much due to the fact that Anna ended up being the character that I hated the most out of all the characters in the book, as soon as I read the first chapter that was written from her point of view. What I think really helped the pacing and the flow of the story is the fact that all of the chapters were relatively short. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily have a problem with books having somewhat long chapters, but I do think that sometimes a book having lots of long chapters can hurt a book more than help it.
For example, the aforementioned Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian has some absurdly long chapters, and I’m honestly a little surprised that the people who edited the book didn’t insist that E.L. James break the chapters into smaller chunks. In case anybody reading this review hasn’t read Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, I feel like should mention that that book doesn’t have chapters in the traditional sense. Unlike the original Fifty Shades trilogy, each “chapter” of that book is simply labeled with a date. Much like that book, The Girl on the Train also doesn’t have chapters in the traditional sense. Each “chapter” is labeled with a date and the name of which characters’ point of view that the chapter is being told from whenever the story changes to a different character’s point of view. I have to say that I think that it was very smart of Paula Hawkins to include the characters’ names and the date at the start of each chapter since the book has three main characters, and the timeline of the book isn’t told in a linear manner. Doing that definitely helps keep the reader from getting confused and having a hard time following the story.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I’m really trying to not give away too many spoilers in case anybody that reads this review hasn’t read the book yet. I wouldn’t want to ruin this book for anybody, especially since The Girl on the Train is a mystery novel. While the mystery genre is a genre of books that I’ve only gotten into fairly recently by reading J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, I still think it’s extremely important for the plot of a mystery novel to not be incredibly predictable and that the reader should be genuinely surprised by the book. I really think that me going into too much detail and giving away too many spoilers in my review for The Girl on the Train or any mystery novel would be a very bad thing for me to do. That being said, this book has a lot of really great plot twists in my opinion. Plus, I felt like Hawkins did a great job of having Rachel, Megan and Anna’s lives eventually collide with each other’s.
At the risk of giving too much away, aside from finding Anna extremely annoying and unlikable, the other thing that bugged me about The Girl on the Train was the way things ended for Rachel. All throughout the book, I was really rooting for her to stop drinking and for her to get her shit together. Unfortunately, while the book’s ending makes it seem like she’s finally stopped drinking because it’s mentioned that she hadn’t had a drink in 21 days, it’s also heavily implied that she’s ready to have a drink as soon as the book ends, which really, really, really pisses me off.
One last thing that I would like to mention is that if you’re planning to read The Girl on the Train, or you’re currently reading it, I would highly recommend checking out the audiobook version of The Girl on the Train instead of just reading an actual physical copy of the book. I didn’t buy a physical copy of the book to read, I only bought the audiobook version of The Girl on the Train and just listened to it like I’ve done with almost every other book that I’ve reviewed so far. The three women that did the audiobook, Clare Corbett (Rachel), Louise Brealey (Megan) and India Fisher (Anna) all did a truly phenomenal job of bringing the characters to life and making a book that was already amazing even better. I know this might sound weird to some people, but India Fisher’s reading of Anna reminded me a lot of the character Alexis Carrington from the TV show Dynasty and the way Joan Collins played the role of Alexis; but then again, that might just be because I had been watching Dynasty episodes during the same period of time that I was reading The Girl on the Train. As much as I hate the character Anna, India Fisher did a fantastic job of portraying her in the audiobook version of The Girl on the Train.
All things considered, I loved this book, and I think that The Girl on the Train deserves all of the success and hype that it has gotten. I’ll definitely be checking out any books that Paula Hawkins writes in the future. While this book might not necessarily be everybody’s cup of tea, especially if they’re leery about books where none of the characters are truly likable people, I’d definitely recommend reading The Girl on the Train. With the exception of Anna, all of the characters felt very complex and interesting to me. The overall plot and mystery of the book kept me invested in the story, and the story itself had really great pacing that never caused me to feel like reading this book was a major chore for me like Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined did, which makes me extremely happy when it comes to how I feel about this book.
That being said, my final score for The Girl on the Train is 8 out of 10.
Posted on November 8, 2015, in Book Reviews and tagged book review, Dynasty, E.L. James, Fifty Shades, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Trilogy, Grey's Anatomy, Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Jerry Seinfeld, Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, MerDer, Paula Hawkins, Seinfeld, Stephenie Meyer, The Girl on the Train, Twilight, Twilight saga. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.