The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is a thriller about power within relationships, emotional abuse and the unreliability of memory. It explores an individual’s selective vision, the lies we tell ourselves in order to maintain the fantasies in which we wish to live. It lays bare how memory is a construct as much as a recollection, that interpretation can rely on corroboration. It questions the fanciful, selfish reasons for trust, how we judge and are judged.
Rachel is struggling with her life. She has lost her husband, her job and her self respect. Each day she travels to London by train, passing the house where she once lived. She watches a young couple who now live nearby, imagining the happy lives they lead until she almost believes it is real. She feels that she has got to know them, so much so that when one of them disappears she cannot stop herself from becoming involved.
Rachel wishes to help, to uncover the truth, but what of her story can be believed? She is an alcoholic, dogged by memory blackouts and vivid dreams. She is an unreliable witness who cannot even be sure herself what she remembers.
The plot is compelling, multi layered and tightly written. Each of the characters adds intrigue leaving the reader guessing but never quite sure of where the tale will go next. As each character is forced to shed the blinkers they have chosen to wear and to face what has been happening around them the painful truths cause their lives to implode.
The imagery of the train is a constant throughout the book and works well. A journey, strangers, the unrelenting presence like the elephant in the room. I was impressed by the author’s careful unveiling, the pivotal secret and the chilling denouement.
This is an engrossing tale that will not disappoint. It may just cause a few more commuters to look out of train windows and imagine the lives that are being lived as they pass by.