I enjoy thrillers as films and on TV, and I do enjoy them as books as well, but I find that if I read them often I get bored very quickly, as even good ones can be a little predictable, and they seem to always have the same clichéd main character – the detective with personal problems but genius intuition. The Girl on the Train had me hooked from the very first page, because it was different.
The story centres around three women, who provide the first-person narrative. Main character, Rachel, used to live an idyllic life in the suburbs of London with husband Tom, until failed attempts at having children drove Rachel to drink and Tom into the arms of new wife, Anna. Rachel now lodges with a friend but is too ashamed to admit she has lost her job, so continues to commute by train every day to try to keep up appearances, but drinking all the while. As she passes her old house, now occupied by Tom, Anna and their baby, Rachel daydreams about a seemingly perfect couple who live a few doors along. One half of this couple is Megan, who disappears.
So our main narrator, rather than the usual troubled cop, is Rachel: at best an unreliable potential witness, at worst a rubber-necker trying to inject some excitement into her own life by involving herself in a missing person investigation. She was drunk on the night of Megan’s disappearance and remembers nothing after disembarking the train at her old stop, and in trying to find out more she ends up telling lies to cover herself, all the while having no idea whether the people she’s lying to, or even she herself, actually witnessed something or were even responsible. It’s an unusual perspective and keeps the mystery alive in a way that doesn’t feel forced.
Another unusual feature is that the main characters are all really quite dislikeable. We’ve passed the days where clear-cut baddies and goodies were the norm, and it’s now fairly standard for characters to have some flaws, but I’ve never read a book before where I’ve not really liked anyone, and yet still really enjoyed the book. It actually made me enjoy it more as it made the characters feel authentic, and it gave me a wake-up call when Rachel was described by herself and others as fat, because up until that point I’d imagined her as the typical svelte Hollywood star, which is of course not how every leading lady in the real world looks! (Ironically though, there’s a film version on the way, starring Emily Blunt…)
I whizzed through this book and found myself thinking about it, both whenever I had to put it down (for pesky things like work and sleep) and when I finished it. A thrilling thriller, and one I’d recommend.