“The Girl on the Train” – A Middling Marriage Thriller
Thrillers and murder mystery novels usually possesses bloodcurdling investigations or edge-of-the-seat cat and mouse games. These novels were imbued with Hollywood style characterizations with a central twist. Although there have been some refreshing stories, the elements had survived for decades, from Leonard to Steig Larsson or Jo Nesbo. Japanese mystery writers like Keigo Higashino are few of the exceptional writers, who masquerades character studies within a mysterious plot. The recent break-out success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”, however, have instigated English language writers to conjure up new thriller plots, which taps into modern women’s pain and trauma. These postmodern mysteries or domestic noir used thriller framework to showcase perfidious marriages, where women are left squirming.
British author Paula Hawkins’ runaway best seller “The Girl on the Train” was immediately declared as the successor to “Gone Girl”. It has many similarities with Flynn’s novel: unreliable narrator; some realistic characterization; unearths women’s pain of leading a mundane life; provides social and cultural critiques. Although I felt that “Girl on the Train” didn’t have as much emotional or character depth as “Gone Girl”, it is nonetheless, a page-turning escapist thriller. The book alternates among the stories of three women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. But, Rachel is our primary narrator, who tells her story as he rides a commuter train in the morning and evening (to and fro from work) from Ashbury to London & vice-versa.
Rachel, who is in her early 30’s, shares a flat with a little tiresome friend Cathy. Rachel has gradually become an alcoholic, who has lost her job after taking a 3 hour lunch and returned office in a drunken stupor, losing an important client. But, she hasn’t been like this or never thought her life would take a worst turn. Rachel had a perfect & caring husband Tom, a beautiful Victorian house by the tracks. All was lost, when Rachel embraced alcohol to cope with the stress of not being able to bear a child. Then, she discovered Tom having an affair with a beautiful blonde Anna. As Rachel makes her daily train journey (although she has no work), she is attracted by only one sight: the home of attractive & perfect-looking couples, whom she has named as Jason and Jess. Due to a signal problem, the train daily halts or slows near the suburban house of the couple and Rachel sits in the same compartment to get an unadulterated view into Jason & Jess’ house.
However, Rachel is filled with nausea, even when she mistakenly watches her former house, situated in the same neighborhood of the adorable couples. In her former house, lives ex-husband Tom with his new wife Anna & their toddler. Rachel hasn’t been able to let go of Tom and often hassles him or Anna after taking a drink or two. As the story shifts to Megan aka Jess & Scott aka Jason, we get the feeling that Rachel is so wrong, since the perfect couples also seem to have their own ‘skeletons in the closet’. A little later, we also get Anna’s perspective, who has never liked Rachel & even terrified of her after a particular incident. But, the main thrilling element arrives when Rachel sees her ‘Jess’ passionately kissing a man on the patio, who is definitely not ‘Jason’. That Sunday, Rachel wakes up with injuries, torn clothes and a head-splitting hangover. She doesn’t remember a single event that happened on Saturday night (a complete blackout) and she is filled with dread after hearing the news that ‘Megan is missing’.
Rachel’s unstable mind and alcoholism heightens the suspense factor of the novel. The narrative has the echoes of Agatha Christie’s works, George Cukor’s “Gaslight”, and Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”. One of the central themes of the novel is ‘misinterpretation’. The characters misinterpret the nature of other characters, by watching them from a distance or by a mislaid piece of memory. At few times, the characters even misinterpret their own feelings and dilemmas. The propulsive plot tries to emphasize how women are manipulated by their male counter-parts and how they are chained by the mundane domestic lives. However, as the story progresses, the women characters gradually evolve into a stereotype rather than the archetypes, the author started with.
Couple of sizable flaws in the novel I felt is the way the denouement stretches & stretches, even after we had easily guessed the twist; the other one is that how the three female characters’ faces mental tension only from the complications that rises from their fertility. It is very old-fashioned to relate all of women’s troubles & internal conflicts only with their ability to produce offspring. However, if you aren’t interested in making elaborate analysis on character nature and content with the thriller elements, then this sub-urban noir might definitely interest you.