“She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks…”

train   The Girl on the Train is a Thriller/Mystery set in modern-day London and its surrounding area. It’s a story about fantasy and reality, jealousy and human weakness, as well as psychological and bodily ills. 

At the heart of it is Rachel Watson, a thirty-something unemployed drunk with voyeuristic tendencies. Everyday she rides a train into London; during the ride she passes her old neighborhood, right by her old house. Only now there’s a new Mrs. Watson – Anna, her husband’s former mistress and now wife and mother of his child. Rachel also looks into their neighbor’s yard, where a seemingly idyllic couple lives, whom she’s named Jess and Jason. Rachel invents identities for this couple and projects onto them the happy and perfect marriage she didn’t have.

One day she sees a man who isn’t Jason kissing Jess. Shortly thereafter, Jess (whose real name is Megan) goes missing, and the couple become more than just mannequins in a store window for Rachel.

Since everyone knows that the husband/boyfriend is the first suspect when a woman goes missing, Rachel inserts herself into the investigation, ostensibly to help Megan’s husband (Jess/Scott) by informing him and the police about the man she saw Megan kissing. She becomes more and more entrenched in the investigation despite a cynical response from detectives. She also discovers that the lives of everyone involved – her, Scott, Megan, the ex-husband, and Anna – are far more entwined than she thought.

The book is told from three perspectives: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. All thee are unreliable narrators. In fact, I don’t believe any of the characters in the book have one redeeming quality between them: Rachel is weak and self-pitying; Megan is histrionic and narcissistic; Anna is petty and vindictive. The men don’t fair much better: Scott, perhaps the most sympathetic character, is mean-spirited and careless; Tom, the ex-husband, is exploitative and deceitful; and the ‘other man’ is unprofessional and careless as well.

Consequently, it becomes difficult to ‘root’ for anyone, and the reader really just barrels through the book much like Rachel does through her life – buzzed and a little wobbly. You can’t really trust anyone’s perspective; although, the truth at the end is very black and white, so perhaps the perspectives aren’t that important.

This is an interesting novel, and I got through it in two sittings over two days, so I must have enjoyed it on some level. I found the narrative style a bit intrusive though. They read like diary entries even though they aren’t supposed to be, which I found quite distracting. The writer in me was sitting there thinking how I might have done it, and I don’t have an answer! So, maybe the story couldn’t have been told any other way.

All in all, satisfying read. 3/5 stars! 

Have you read The Girl on the Train? What did you think?