Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #18 for 2015

From all the hype, I was expecting this book to be either mind-blowing or (more likely) really crappy. I was pleasantly surprised to find it somewhere on the high side of the middle. I’m even more surprised that this book is so polarizing and has been compared (both favorably and not so favorably) to Gone Girl so frequently. It’s like the reading public is just now discovering that you can’t always take your narrator’s words at face value. “What’s this, an unreliable narrator? Wow, they’re ripping off Gone Girl! Shame on them!” Please, can I be there when they read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? I just want to see their faces.

I have to admit that I have little to no interest in fiction about the woes that come of addiction and attendant bad life choices. Heck, I’m not even interested in true stories of that variety most of the time. Since I was listening to this on audio instead of reading a print copy, I did let my mind wander throughout large swaths of the story whenever Rachel was mostly doing things like waking up in a pool of her own vomit or drunk dialing her ex-husband who clearly had no use for her anymore. I did, however, have some interest in the dynamics of domestic violence and the various forms showcased here.

For the first few discs I was worried that Hawkins would go for the obvious, lazy solution, but then it became clear that she was taking a more sophisticated approach, and I was able to pick up on some of the clues that Rachel was not in a state to notice until it was almost too late. The more I reflect on it, the more I think Hawkins displayed a lot of subtle skill in oblique descriptions of interpersonal relationships and clever misdirection.

I did have some issues with the narration even though each of the three readers did a good job individually. The reader voicing Megan reminded me of Rose from Doctor Who. That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it just didn’t seem to fit the character, so I found it distracting. And I wish that she and the reader voicing Rachel had compared notes and agreed to handle the therapist’s accent in the same way. The Rachel reader didn’t even attempt an accent, which I think probably bothers me more than if she’d done the accent poorly.

Overall, this is a pretty solid mystery but with mostly miserable characters. I give it 3.5 stars but am rounding down here because I found Rachel’s alcoholism, while necessary to the plot, tedious; I think Hawkins could have written Rachel more intelligently in some spots; and there is one major loose end that didn’t really get tidied up.

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