[dropcap]“[/dropcap]Gone Girl meets Rear Window” is a tall order to fill. A whole host of expectations are instantly prompted by the likening to these established works, but Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train does well to fit the bill.
The Gone Girl comparison gives clues as to the narrative construction of The Girl on the Train, especially the unreliable narration, the multiple perspectives and the exploration of women’s marginalisation. It is the allusion to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, though, that serves to emphasises the theme of voyeurism and the psychological thriller elements in the book.
Hawkins’ debut novel centres around Rachel, a miserable alcoholic who commutes to London each day. She creates a story for a couple she sees on their deck every morning, naming them ‘Jess’ and ‘Jason’. When ‘Jess’ (actually called Megan) goes missing, Rachel believes she has vital information, but due to her being prone to blackouts her account is not taken seriously.
Regardless, Rachel intrudes upon the investigation. However, everything seems to hinge upon her hazy recollection of the night that Megan went missing and her fractured memory of blood, an underpass, a blue dress, and a man.
everything seems to hinge upon her hazy recollection of the night that Megan went missing…
The narrative is skilfully split between Rachel, Megan (who has a dark secret of her own), and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex who lives on the same street as Megan. The three women – an alcoholic, a liar, and a cheat – are unreliable to varying degrees, each with a lot of baggage but all tied together by one man.
Hawkins’ masterful construction of the plot means she switches narrative voice at just the right time to ramp up the tension and build up to the climax as slow, subtle revelations are made. The Girl on the Train’s climax, thankfully, does not disappoint. Despite lacking expansive social commentary that would deepen the issues that are explored in the sub-plots, The Girl on the Train surprisingly brings into question the inherent trust of the male authority alongside the unreliable female voices of the narrative. It consolidates the feel of the book as being a contemporary suburban noir.
The Girl on the Train’s climax, thankfully, does not disappoint.
Like Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train’s strengths lie in the power of the psychological suspense and the manner in which the plot is revealed to the reader. The filmic manner of Hawkins’ writing and characterisation is undoubtedly Hitchcockian, and the juggling perspectives and timescales with the unsympathetic characters prove that no one can truly be trusted.
Image Credits: Header (Flickr/Diego Torres Silvestre), Image 1 (Wikimedia Commons/Arild Vågen)