This book is a train. It rocks and sways and keeps us off balance, it passes back and forth across the narrative, allowing us to pick up more details on each pass. The “windows” in our train are Rachel, Anna and Megan.
Rachel is The Girl on the Train, every day she glimpses life on Blenheim Road as she rumbles past, either to or from London. Some things she sees out the window are real, and some things are imagined, because Rachel is an alcoholic with a broken heart and spirit.
Anna lives on Blenheim Road. She is also the former mistress and current wife of Rachel’s ex-husband.
Megan lived on Blenheim Road until she went missing.
All three of our windows are unreliable. Anna and Megan are self-centred and unlikeable, so we wonder if they know much beyond what serves their agenda. Rachel tries to see things clearly and we like her even as she frustrates us, but she’s a mess, with alcohol induced gaps in her memory.
The person keeping this train on the track is writer Paula Hawkins. If I hadn’t read that she was a journalist before she turned her hand to fiction, I would have guessed it. Her economy of words, and her ability to choose just the right details to paint a picture, point to someone used to writing to a word count. Nothing is wasted, details unfold naturally yet often with a pop of surprise that keeps us fully engaged and turning pages.
The first 24 pages of this book unwrap Rachel’s past, her pain, and her despair that she may never feel whole again. She straddles a world of her imagination – even the job she commutes to is fiction – and a reality where she is rapidly losing control.
One day she sees something out the window, we see it too, it shatters her fictional world and forces her to engage with reality. But her memory is suspect, her ability to stay sober fragile and her capacity to make sound decisions debatable. This broken woman becomes our only guide to unravelling Megan’s disappearance.
As the stakes get higher we’re rooting for Rachel to solve the puzzle “what happened to Megan” and to find the answers that will help her too. It’s a great ride.