Just… why?: A Review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

“The next Gone Girl.”

I’m unsure how many books were pitched by the powers that be with that line. Gone Girl was an insane hit, so I get why the pitch is used, and why it works. But I am honestly yet to find a book that has even the remotest of Gone Girl vibes. I had actually liked that book – it was twisted, it was dysfunctional, and the characters were outright crazy (my detailed review on the Gillian Flynn book is here). But here’s the thing, you could still feel for the characters – hate or love, whatever the emotion might be – you could still feel it.

The book also led to a massive rise in the genre known/accepted as family-based psychological thrillers, but that should be more aptly named ‘dysfunctional whining stories’; which is a surprising thing given that Gone Girl didn’t really have that much whining.

Anyway.

After reading a few of these apparent psychological thrillers, namely The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (review here), The Neighbor by Joseph Souza (review here), and Tell Me A Secret by Samantha Hayes (review here), I swore off the genre completely. So in my defense for picking up The Girl On The Train, I’d like to mention that I actually thought it was a very different story and not of this genre at all. I picked it up just before the release of the second movie it inspired; and I read it through to the end only because I hate marking books as DNF (although I really, really considered giving up at the 30%-35% mark).

Coming to my review of The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins – I’m going to do this one a little differently than the ones I’ve been doing recently. First, the blurb.

Rachel takes the morning train into London and the evening train back to wherever she lives (I don’t really care at this point). She stares at a bunch of houses at a particular point in this journey, where the train also happens to slow down regularly due to a signal placement. She obsesses about one couple specifically, who she sees regularly on their terrace, making up lives and identities for them. They remind her of happier times – when she and her husband lived in one of those houses (not too far from the couple in her fantasies). But that was before the divorce, before she became a borderline alcoholic because she couldn’t conceive, and before her husband dumped her for someone else, with whom he now has a baby and with whom he now lives in their old house. One day, when the train slows down for just a moment at its usual spot near the houses, Rachel sees something “shocking”. The next day, the girl of her fantasies disappears, and Rachel inserts herself into the investigation and everyone’s lives (for some reason). Rachel knows something about the night the girl disappeared, but she doesn’t remember what it is (thanks to above-mentioned alcoholism). And then some more stuff happens as the mystery of “what happened to Random Girl #1” is solved.

Now that that’s done, let’s jump right into the review.

At this point, I’m going to flat out state that this book was terrible. Maybe better than Tell Me A Secret (I really did not like that one), but still terrible. Here’s a list of just a few of the things that made it such a cumbersome read:

  1. The only thing the characters do is whine. That’s it. “Oh my life is so lovely so why do I want to be a b****?” and “Oh I’m so hopeless and I know what I need to do to get better, but let me just fantasize all day, every day about random strangers that I’m too interested in without taking any real concrete steps toward getting my life together,” and “Oh I finally married the guy I love and got everything I ever wanted but I wish I could go back to being the mistress again because that was more fun.”
  2. And that’s just the women. The men, as it seems to be the case in most of the books in this genre, have no presence. They’re literally mannequins that are picked up and placed where convenient for the women’s stories, when required. No characterization, no depth, just… there.
  3. In all fairness, it’s not like the women have characterization either (whining prowess aside). All the men are basic a-holes (with a good dose of general men-hatred sprinkled in through the narrative). And all the women are victims… of their own pity, more than circumstance. Not a single character has more depth than that.
  4. Everyone is also an idiot. It’s a book of all characters going, “Oh I shouldn’t, but I will.” On repeat.
  5. Everything is in flashback. Every, single, thing. I guess it’s because Rachel – the main character – takes the train once in the morning and once in the evening. And she spends every ride monologuing, and reliving conversations. Which is why you read everything that happened the previous night in a morning setting, and everything that happened in the day in the evening setting. Just… why? When you can conveniently add ‘Afternoon’ and ‘Early morning’ (which is what Paula Hawkins has done as the story progresses), why not just make it simpler for a reader to follow the story?
  6. The sheer length. Let’s be honest – The Girl on the Train has mystery and a whoddunit at its core. But it just rambles on and on without anything happening for a really good chunk of the book. This entire time is used up by Rachel whining. And by the time stuff starts happening, it takes some effort to go on – made possible only with the hope that maybe the suspense and end is worth it.
  7. It’s really not. The end is predictive, dull, and the ongoing cry-baby monologues just make you dislike everyone so much that you don’t care about anything that has happened or that will happen to them. So by the end, you’re just sitting there thinking, “Oh, so you finally had an epiphany? Whoopdedoo.”

All in all, the book was just… blah! On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 1, and that is only because at its very crux, it had something of a decent mystery, albeit one that was predictable and done-to-death. But, I mean, the solve could have been worse.

With that, I’m going to add Paula Hawkins to the list of authors I will avoid. I would honestly not recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good mystery or psychological thriller, because I don’t think it’s really a fit in those genres. But, if you love books such as The Couple Next Door or Tell me a Secret – books that focus on the complete, often unrealistic crazy of people – you may like Girl on the Train.

As always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review (or in this case, my rant). Now, I’m going to go read something from authors I’ve loved in the past, just because I want a comfort read.

Coming up next, though, is my review of Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay, a book that I read earlier this year (prior to picking up this brilliant bestseller by Paula Hawkins)!

– Rishika

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