The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has won a lot of awards and is a very popular book. It has good reviews, Stephen King for example describes it as a “Really great suspense novel. Kept me up most of the night. The alcoholic narrator is dead perfect.”

I thought it sounded good, so I decided to read it. But it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I wasn’t enthralled.

It began well with Rachel on the train each morning looking out at the houses on the road where she used to live before she was divorced. As the train stops at the same signal each day she enviously watches a young couple who are living the perfect life, or so she imagines. Then something happens that shocks her and everything changes and she begins to get involved in their lives, with disastrous results.

But I couldn’t easily distinguish between the three main characters, Rachel, Anna and Megan. Each one is an unreliable narrator and not very likeable. I had to keep referring to the chapter headings and dates to remind myself who was who and what happened when. I didn’t find it chilling or thrilling and any suspense rapidly disappeared with the repetition of Rachel being drunk, then being sorry, but unable to stop drinking. Then there are all the phone calls, text messages and emails that she sends when she is drunk. She has blackouts and can’t remember what happened, or what she said. Added to that she dreams and is unable to distinguish between them and reality. Overall it’s dreary and depressing.

So after a good start, the narrative lost impetus and dragged on to its conclusion, which by comparison seemed rushed, with a twist right at the end that took me by surprise. I suppose it is a ‘page-turner’ as I did want to know what what going to happen, but it left me feeling unsatisfied, irritated and rather out of sorts.

I’ve seen this book compared to Gone Girl, another book I have sitting waiting to be read. Now, I’m wondering if I’ll find that one disappointing as well. Do let me know your views on both or either of these books.

Reading challenges: Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016, 20 Books of Summer 2016 and although I didn’t find this book particularly perilous, Carl’s RIP XI (Readers Imbibing Peril), because plenty of other people have.

22 thoughts on “The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

  1. Doesn’t sound like this one is for me. To be honest I’m never all that eager to pick up these popular books because I tend to be worried that they won’t live up to the hype. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sorry this one didn’t for you.


    1. Cath, I don’t often read them either, but as both the Stephen King and the S J Watson quotes indicated that it’s “gripping”, “a great suspense novel” and a ‘top-notch thriller’, both writers of really chilling thrillers I thought it would be good. I wonder what they found that I didn’t!!


  2. OK, here are my thoughts. We read GONE GIRL in my book group and even though it is a mystery group, we almost all were unhappy with it. I absolutely hated the end. I read GIRL ON THE TRAIN and went back and forth with whether to finish because I was having such a hard time with Rachel and her self-destructive attitude. Her drinking pushed all my buttons. My late sister was an alcoholic and was very much like Rachel. Anyway, I did finish it and I did like it more than GONE GIRL. Since that time, I seem to like it better as a memory. Don’t think I’ll ever reread either of the books and I like rereading. Did not watch the movie of GG, but I’m very tempted to see the upcoming film of GOTT. I like Emily Blunt. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Kay. I think I’ll have to try Gone Girl – although I’m not expecting much from it. Sometimes films can be better than the book – hope you like the GOTT film. 🙂


  3. I would tend to agree with you. Rachel’s story and the description of her descent into alcoholism and depression were quite well done, and very much my favourite part of the story, while the ending felt very ‘made for movies’. The three voices were also quite similar, as you point out. However, I did like Gone Girl (I read it before the hype and the movie) – as a social critique and portrait of a marriage, not just a mindless thriller, I think it works rather well


  4. Oh, sorry to hear that this one didn’t do it for you, Margaret. I’ve heard other people, too, say that it disappointed. As to Gone Girl? Honestly, I don’t think it lives up to the hype. But that’s strictly my opinion.


  5. So glad I’m not the only one who is baffled by this book’s popularity. I agree that the decision to have multiple narrators doesn’t work because the voices are utterly interchangeable. And the alcoholism is treated as a plot device, rather than a serious medical and psychological problem. In one chapter, she’s black-out drunk; in the next, mildly tipsy; then in another, stone-cold sober with total recall. And finally, there were too few plausible suspects. By the midway point of the book, there were only three! Even Agatha Christie, the Queen of Mysteries, only tried the limited suspect group once (in CARDS ON THE TABLE) and, even then, she went with four. And Paula Hawkins is no Agatha Christie.


  6. I think your thoughts about the similarity between the women are really in context. Thinking of the theme, did Hawkins perhaps plan it that way?

    I liked it quite a bit but it isn’t really Gone Girl. There’s some similarities but it’s more the pacing that’s similar rather than anything else.


    1. Charlie – well they are all disturbed women, so maybe she did – but it is confusing, although by the end of the book I had worked them out. I take it you liked Gone Girl?


  7. One more comment–this time about GONE GIRL: I think you should read it, if only to see what all the fuss was about, but I think it’s probably a case of the cinematic adaptation being superior. There are really no sympathetic characters in the book so you have no one to root for or care about; and, if you’re an avid mystery reader, you’ll see the big plot “twist” coming a mile away. I found the ending utterly contrived. I think Ruth Rendell could have done so much more with the same basic characters and set up.

    If you haven’t already read Lauren Groff’s FATES AND FURIES, I’d recommend that as a different (and, IMHO, better) take on a complex marriage. It has its faults too, but the main characters aren’t nearly as unpleasant as the ones in GONE GIRL.


    1. I can see that I will have to read Gone Girl, Deb. After all these comments I’m really curious about it. I haven’t read Lauren Groff’s FATES AND FURIES – I’ll look out for it, thanks.


  8. Sorry to hear this didn’t work for you. I thought it very good, but then I listened to it and there were different actresses doing the different women characters, which helped keep them sorted in my head.

    Hype can often turn a fairly good book into a ho-hum read, in my opinion!


  9. I liked it. But I agree the ending was a bit rushed. But I liked how the characters weren’t that likable. She’s self-destructive for a reason and yet that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to be the heroine of her own story. Life’s messy and so are we. So enjoyed that I didn’t like her. But the story wasn’t the greatest overall.

    I didn’t love Gone Girl either. But I liked the movie better because it kind of summed up everything for me emotionally and so the ending made a lot more sense and thus more enjoyable. Read Gone Girl at least once just to see what all they hype’s been about.


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