I don’t like thrillers, psychological or otherwise. I would prefer not to be uncomfortable (though hopelessly sad is okay). I want characters I can trust to give me pertinent information and impressions, eventually building to a story that is relate-able and real. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins, 2015) is not my kind of book, and I loved it.
Generally speaking, when a novel’s primary narrator is what they call ‘unreliable’, he (and it does tend to be a he, in my experience) is a self aggrandizing ass-hat whose mental pathology is so warped he is incapable of connecting to reality the way other characters do. That is, he consistently re-writes history to make himself look better or to justify his less favorable actions. Not so with Hawkins’s heroine. (Who is not a heroine at all…). What makes Rachel interesting is that she is fully aware of having made some terrible choices. She isn’t proud of herself, but she doesn’t deny what she is either. For a hot mess, she was down-right refreshing.
She also has no idea what happened at key points in the novel. At times, her narration is more like an investigation, which, perhaps surprisingly, is compelling. I found myself rooting for her, hoping she hadn’t done something horrible (all the while suspecting she may have). This sort of slow reveal made reading the novel an almost visceral experience, and one I found entirely unique. To say that the book is well-written is to understate the point. I will say instead that it is well-thought, well-crafted, and, again, entirely unique.
5 stars to Paula Hawkins on her stunning debut.