Morning commutes are supposed to be uneventful. They are our time in the day to set our minds to the tasks we face. They give us the opportunity to fully awaken to ourselves, before we’re forced to awaken to other people. But when Rachel, the focal voice of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, rides the commuter train to London every morning, she gets more than she bargained for.
Unreliable at best, Rachel has fallen into a state of personal disrepair, a state perpetuated by her alcoholism. Her recent divorce has left her both grasping at and rejecting a sense of normalcy that only seems to tiptoe near the edge of possibility. Every morning Rachel gets up to take the 8:04 train into the city (where she no longer works) because she can’t bring herself to tell her roommate that she’s recently been relieved of her job. Her train takes her past her old home, the old home in which her old husband still lives with his new wife. And very new daughter. It also takes her past the home of Jess and Jason, two strangers for whom Rachel creates an imaginary life representative of the one she wants and thought she had. Jess and Jason, though, are not quite the people Rachel imagines them to be. No one in this novel is. And when Jess, whose real name is Megan, comes up missing, Rachel feels personally invested in solving the case.
Throughout the novel, readers will feel the same vague sense of recognition that Rachel feels. We know the answer. We have all the clues. They are right in front of us, but Rachel’s drunken state on the night of Megan’s disappearance hinders us just as much as it does Rachel. The answer always seems attainable but just out of reach, moving further away as we move closer. Granted, there is some evidence sprinkled throughout the story, but the level of suspicion necessary to see it requires a certain level of concentrated cynicism.
The story moves at a brisk clip, much like the train that sets it in motion. However, readers may find themselves confused by superfluous details. Unnecessary characters and irrelevant discussions tangle the plot further than is absolutely necessary, which is, perhaps, the point of their inclusion, but more than anything they serve to exacerbate the reader’s sense of frustration with Rachel’s constantly repeating the same mistake.
Terminal Notes: The Girl on the Train offers readers an active reading experience, one in which every detail seems crucial in the moment. The ending, while somewhat anticlimactic, is not predictable, and readers will feel a very realistic connection to Rachel, even if the connection is established only in frustration and annoyance or in relief that they no longer have to contend with her.