Alcoholic Stalker or Dogged Mystery Solver?

Dziewczyna z pociągu - Paula Hawkins

Brief Background: Rachel is an alcoholic who has lost her job, her home, her husband and her life. Trapped in an endless cycle of drinking and depression, she takes the train into London every morning where she passes by the homes of people that she, for two minutes of the day, can see directly into the lives of. Jess and Jason, the names she has given to two of these individuals, are her favourites. She imagines their life of blissful happiness, until one day when she sees something that changes everything. What ensues is a mystery told through the eyes of three women - Rachel, Megan and Anna, who offer varying perspectives of a story of seduction, mediocrity, jealousy and obsession.


What I Liked:

1. Character development. Superficially, all the characters in this book are unusual in the sense that they are deeply unlikable, at least to begin. Rachel is rash, and doesn't learn from her mistakes. Megan is superficial and self-interested, caught up in her own boredom. Anna is vindictive and hypocritical. Cathy was about the only character who seemed to have any sense of a moral compass and empathy - indeed, she is probably the only really likable figure. However the reasons why the characters act how they do are very well explored by Hawkins, particularly because she uses the perspective of all three major female protagonists. Additionally, the sprinkling of information throughout the prose transforms your understanding of Rachel, Anna, Megan, Scott and Tom as you read further, which adds a layer of mystery and intrigue.

2. Development of themes. Themes of loneliness and boredom were very well explored in this novel. Although all three of the major female protagonists experience this, they all deal with it in very different ways. Megan is a philanderer and a wanderer. Anna is an obsessive, anxious mess. Rachel turns to her alcohol addiction and develops obsessive patterns of behaviour. Additionally, the book explores the theme of how we perceive others through our own voyeurism and intrigue. Rachel is forever lamenting how she 'needs' to know about the goings on during the mystery of Megan's disappearance, Anna is constantly worrying about Rachel's mental state, Megan feeds off an obsession of getting people to want her. If you bother to delve past a superficial reading of this book, the thematic elements are absolutely fantastic.

3. The use of unreliable narrator/s. Whether its due to their own bias, or inability to remember plot points, the use of the unreliable narrator allows Hawkins to build a mystery which unravels itself slowly and surprisingly throughout the book. Although at first Rachel's black-out can seem convenient, it is very cleverly used as a plot device, whereby Rachel systematically begins to remember more, not by pure coincidence, but by coming to terms with certain facts about herself and those around her which enable her to piece together the fragments of her memory.


What I Didn't Like:

1. Tom's brutal honesty. Although he's shown to be a malicious character towards the end of the book, I didn't like how the exposition of his character and the facts about his indiscretion were so laid bare by the dialogue. I probably would have preferred a bit more subtlety from a person who is shown to be clearly very emotionally manipulative and a talented liar. Although I did like the ending of the book, I think it was a touch rushed.

2. An ending without Scott. I really wanted to know what happened to Scott and Kamal, and we really didn't get to experience that at all. They were basically written out in order to focus on Anna and Rachel, however integral these two male characters were to the story-line.


Comparisons to "Gone Girl"

Although the premise for the books are undeniably similar (both being psychological thrillers based around the missing wife conundrum), I think this book topped Gone Girl, for me. It was Hawkin's understanding of the fragility and deceptiveness of the human psyche which really got me going far more than the female antagonist in "Gone Girl," who was calculating, cruel and downright bad. The fact that all characters in this novel are flawed, but also redeeming in some way is what made it such an irresistible page-turner.