Girl on the Train has been endlessly circulating, discussed, and topping bestseller lists since it was published … in January 2015. So of course I had to do my duty as a librarian: get a hand on it, read it in one fell swoop, and review it.
Here we go!
The thing about unlikable characters is that we’re ALL unlikable characters to some degree, and that’s why we don’t like them — we can see pieces of ourselves in obsessive, desperate, alcoholic Rachel, and I won’t really talk about the others because…SPOILZ. That being said, this book is continually compared to “Gone Girl.” I can see the comparison only to the point that both are suspense novels that are also character studies on several main characters. In this case, it’s women.
The cover art — normally, I don’t think much of it, because it’s either too simple or cliched, but to be honest I thought it was very cleverly done. The image is obviously of a scene rushing by as one sits on a train. But could it not also represent the blur of a rush of a drunken night? One where you might not remember very well, and perhaps that one drunken night happened to be a Saturday, where everything is a blur and you really, really ought to remember? Finally, the double lettering reminds me of the jostling of train cars on the tracks. But it also can stand for duplicity. We have a slew of unreliable narrators– cheaters, liars, alcoholics — all trying to convince themselves that it’s OK to do these things, that they’re really trying, that they deserve happiness, that it’s okay to destroy other people’s things for the sake of their own. I loved Rachel’s quote — something about how following your heart always leads to disaster, and doing it is only ever foolish.
I liked the writing a great deal and I enjoyed the character studies, but it was the plot for me that felt just … meh. I was looking for the great writing to create a little more plot. I was looking for Rear Window suspense. In other words, I was looking for more Rachel-on-the-Train seeing things, and less Rachel-gets-on-the-train-in-the-first-quarter-of-the-book-and-then-sees-something-immediately, leading to the last 3/4 being more filler and Rachel trying to convince people she saw something. I wish that “Jess and Jason” were more developed as IDEAS that Rachel had, because that would have made the Megan parts more shocking.
Again, more staring out the window on the train, less other fluff. Even if Rachel continued narrating six months’ worth of taking the train in the morning / taking the train of the evening just to note her thoughts on Jess and Jason and what they’re doing, I think that would have left a greater impact when she finally sees what she sees — and to be honest, what she sees is also very … meh. Nothing I would define as shocking, particularly if she doesn’t know them. If I had seen it, I would have been like, “Well, wow, so that’s…your life, good luck, but I don’t know anything about you, so I guess I’ll just forget about it.”
I did very much enjoy the idea of alcoholic blackouts. It made for an interesting protagonist and I liked the center of the whole story, the key to the puzzle, being locked away in a blackout. What happened Saturday night? Who knows! And the guilt that results from that is very genuine.
The ending was a copout though. Just saying. Everything fit the narrative…but oh geez, seriously? Ugh. I wish there was more to it.
TL;DR: More girl on the train, and less of everyone else.