Review: Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

girl on the trainRachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Rating: 4/5

I was lucky enough to meet the author at a book signing/interview, which was so awesome. But obviously that didn’t influence my review.

I finished the book in one sitting, which is always one way to judge the strength of the book. I was sort of dumbfounded, however, reading through some of the reviews for this book – of the negative comments, two dominant strands of thought seemed to be 1)This book is the 50 shades of grey of the crime genre and 2) ERMAGERD the characters were so unlikeable how can anybody like this book what is society coming to MORAL FAILINGS!!111!!!

As someone who doesn’t read a lot in the crime genre, not liking the gore part of it and also because I end up having vivid nightmares which do not a good sleep make, I can’t really judge on the first criticism. I do think we need to stop the line of thinking that anything popular is a sell-out to the genre, however.

But the second criticism is what intrigued me. (Disclaimer: there is no correct way to review a book, this is no attack on other reviewers, etc) IMO, dislikable, unreliable characters usually make the book more interesting. Furthermore, it takes more than an unlikable character to rate a book negatively – yeah, they could be incredibly misogynistic, or kick puppies, or compulsively lie, but as long as they’re well fleshed-out, and there’s an interesting plot, and we get insight into their motivations, well, then, I’m satisfied. When did we start thinking that the characters have to be good and nice in order for the book to be good?

Furthermore, the author said something really interesting in her interview – that we’re seeing directly into the character’s heads. It’s not being filtered through third person – we’re right in the thoughts of these characters. And, quite frankly, the human mind is not a great place to be for anybody. We all have dark thoughts, murderous fantasies, judgmental comments that never pass our lips – hell, if we had to be judged solely on the contents of our heads, we’d all be in nice padded cells by now. It’s actions and words that we should judge the characters by.

Another factor mentioned, specifically with regards to our MC’s unlikeable nature, is the fact that she is an alcoholic. And alcoholism is not a pretty disease. It’s not a grandfatherly figure snoring in front of the fireplace after one too many whiskeys. It’s an ugly illness that takes away your dignity, self-respect, and usually friendships/families/careers. There is no glamour in it, and I think the author really got this down in terms of the portrayal.

In terms of the book itself, I did find the beginning rather slow, but things started moving along fairly swiftly once I got a few chapters in. Personally, I was fascinated by the slow unraveling of these women’s lives. It really showed the ugly side of domestic life and human nature – and questions of how well you can ever really know your partner. I called the perpetrator around halfway through the novel – so chuffed I was right, haha – but I see quite a few people guessed it!

I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.

Overall, this book was a win for me. An intriguing premise, and an unflinching look at the dark side of our domestic lives, and indeed, the human mind.

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10 thoughts on “Review: Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

  1. I want to read this and I will. Seriously? People complained that the MC is not likeable enough? LOL. I’m not even sure I understand the statement it’s so ridiculous. Wonderful review 🙂

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  2. I’ve read so many good reviews on this book, I haven’t read it myself but I do want to give it a try – glad this book won you over though! Lovely review.

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  3. I agree. There are dislikable characters that make the book all that much interesting to read, but there are also unlikable characters that I simply couldn’t give two sh*ts about. I think there’s a difference. Indifference, for one. The latter characters don’t inspire feeling/interest, the former gives a story the foundation and layers a good reader can appreciate. Still haven’t read this yet. Boo me.

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    1. Yup, you’ve summed it up perfectly! If the unlikable character doesn’t inspire any feeling in me, or provide insight, then I will rate the book low – just as I would for an equally uninspiring likable one. But if there’s more to it, then unlikability certainly isn’t enough to turn me off a book.

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  4. I have read the book recently and I found myself completely gripped. I agree that some of the choices that the characters make are extremely poor, some are downright dumb. However,I think that is what the writer wanted to portray, the thought process of people in those situations and what motivates them to do what they do. So the purpose is fulfilled. Overall a good, exciting read and a good review (y)

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    1. Thank you for the comment! I completely agree – as in real life, people sometimes make stupid, crappy decisions. As readers, we have the benefits of distance to evaluate the actions of the characters, with added insight into their motivations and mindset.

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  5. I have to agree with Joy in this one. There are characters that are meant to be liked and rooted for, but something about them just irks you (The Jewel, for example… god, I hated the heroine) and there are unlikeable characters that were written to be unlikeable, that were portrayed that way for a reason, and those characters are oftentimes so fascinating to read because they add a particular depth and complexity in the storyline, which I found to be the case in this book. I’m glad you reviewed this one, Hannah, because you wrote the words I couldn’t say in my review (which has been left, well, unwritten). I really liked this one because it was intriguing and because it was so mesmerizing to be in the thoughts of these characters. I could even say I liked it way more than Gone Girl lol!

    Faye at The Social Potato

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    1. Ah, so glad you enjoyed this one too! It obviously wasn’t a traditional happy feel-good read, but I adored the twistyness and yes, sheer unlikability of the characters in this novel. There’s definitely a difference between characters that are just plain terrible, and those with complex motivations and histories that make them who they are.

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