“The Girl on the Train” is told from the first-person viewpoints of Rachel, Anna, and Megan (a la Jodi Picoult)—all of whom are on different tracks in life, yet connected by a common thread.
Rachel Watson, the main protagonist, is an alcoholic who rides the train every morning and evening (whose reasons for doing so will make you wonder about her state of mind), and who, like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Rear Window”, likes to watch the people in their backyard gardens as she rides by. From this vantage point, Rachel watches her ex-husband and his new wife create a new life in the house she used to live in with him, and she sees in another couple (whom she has affectional named Jess and Jason) what she once thought she and Tom, her ex-husband, would be.
However, one day she sees another man with Jess (real name Megan) on the terrace; Megan ends up missing the next day. Rachel believes she may hold the missing piece of the puzzle, and through this distraction, finds sporadic sobriety. In an effort to find Megan, Rachel, in part, loses herself in the life Megan once lived. She also crosses paths with a stranger on the train she believes has the answers to what happened “That Night”, but cannot remember whether he is her friend because of what he may not know, or a danger, because of what may know.
Rachel is an interesting character because she isn’t plugged into her cell phone with people she knows, but is far more interested in those she doesn’t know. Though she is somewhat tuned out of the world around her, she tuned in to the world that lives inside her head—a world that shifts like the scenery outside her window to the world, that world being the window on the train.
As we get to know Rachel, we begin to wonder, is she or isn’t she an unreliable narrator, or is her perspective that far from reality?
Ms. Hawkins allows us to get to know the characters gradually, as one would in real life; the same goes for the mystery, which unfolds one clue at a time. Hawkins richly layers each character with backstory that isn’t an information dump, but keeps surprising us; every tidbit gives clarity to what is going on in the present-day, such as why Megan has a hard time sleeping, or why Rachel’s ex-husband hates her so.
Megan’s story is compelling because she is seeing a therapist, to whom she reveals the source of her angst, and Anna’s, because of her near-obsession with her husband’s ex-wife.
The stories of Rachel and Anna, and then Megan’s story (which is told in “flashback”, leading up to her disappearance), happen about a year apart, but unlike “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, the timeline is easy to follow, and the story flows like the wine that Rachel consumes every day. Rachel’s haze of consciousness lends itself to a (believable) state of amnesia, including blackouts, so the reader doesn’t know any more about whodunit than Rachel does. Rachel and the reader will be in it together, trying to add it all up before the train goes off the tracks.
Due to Rachel’s fluctuating moods and penchant for lying, I constantly felt discombobulated, which only kept me reading till its chilling, unexpected destination.
*Review was originally published in the September 2016 issue of “The Corsair”– the Pensacola State College newspaper. “The Corsair” online can be found at http://ecorsair.com/.