The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is filled with dynamic, flawed characters that leave readers questioning decisions and intentions from beginning to end. This New York Times bestseller and USA Today Book of the Year published in January 2015 is the quintessential psychological thriller in my book, taking the reader on twists and turns with each new chapter.
The Girl on the Train follows the series of events that take place when Rachel Watson, a recently divorced and unemployed alcoholic, finds her escape by watching the same couple from afar each day during her train ride. She becomes fixated on her fantasy of the couple’s seemingly perfect life. However, things take a messy turn when Rachel witnesses something that shatters her fantasy forever. When the woman turns up missing soon after, Rachel decides to involve herself in the investigation. She finds herself in way deeper than she anticipated, and is left questioning her own actions and memory of what may have taken place that night.
First off, I really appreciate that every single character in The Girl on the Train is flawed. Very flawed. Rachel Watson, the book’s leading character, has a long list of issues and personal imperfections that are presented to readers right off the bat. There are times you’ll root for her, there are times you’ll feel sorry for her, and there are times you will be furious with her decisions. This is probably my favorite aspect of the writing because it is common to have nearly perfect main characters, providing readers with someone to always side with and cheer for. However, there is no clear cut “good” person in this story. Every character, including Rachel, makes highly questionable and frustrating decisions, and the text never allows them to placed in one “good guy” or “bad guy” box. I personally believe this adds more depth to the story than many other books that groom readers to love the main character throughout the entire story.
The change of points of view from chapter to chapter is a breath of fresh air. We get to see the perspectives of Rachel, Megan (the woman who goes missing), and Anna (Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife). This style of writing prevents the story from becoming too tedious, and breaks down the story in a way that makes it much harder to put down. Reading the story from the perspective of these three different women enriches the story’s suspense because we as readers are able to form our own opinions about who we side with and what we believe about any given event or interaction. The story is constructed so that we are constantly changing our opinions about who’s right and who’s wrong.
With that being said, it may have been interesting to throw in the perspectives of some of the male characters. Perhaps reading from the point of view of Tom (Rachel’s ex-husband) or Scott (Megan’s husband) would have complicated the story too much, but I believe it would have been interesting to form opinions about events based on one of their perspectives.
Finally, even in the end when the mystery is solved and the truth is revealed, it is not all wrapped up in a neat little package. Things are still very much in shambles, and life will never be the same. I found myself wondering what the characters were going through even after the story ended, and I attribute that to the exquisite writing of Paula Hawkins.
To my excitement, The Girl on the Train has already been optioned by Universal Studios and turned into a movie, which will premiere on October 7, 2016. Here are the actors who will be playing the story’s main characters:
Rachel Watson: Emily Blunt
Cathy: Laura Prepon
Scott Hipwell: Luke Evans
Anna Watson: Rebecca Ferguson
Megan Hipwell: Haley Bennett
Tom Watson: Justin Theroux
I believe casting was well done, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie come this Fall.
The Girl on the Train – Alternate Ending
I found the actual ending of The Girl on the Train to be thoroughly satisfying. All questions were answered and all pieces of the puzzle came together quite nicely. However, if I had to write a different ending, I would make Anna the killer.
Anna is clearly uneasy and anxious basically throughout the story’s entirety. She is fed up with Rachel’s behavior and refusal to stay away from her, Tom and their baby. She begins to question Tom’s actions and decisions. She becomes restless in her role as new mom and housewife, and she longs for the thrilling days when she and Tom would sneak around behind Rachel’s back.
Perhaps one day Anna would come home early from some shopping or lunch with a friend only to witness Tom and Megan caressing one another in her own home while Megan was babysitting. This could have pushed Anna over the edge, leaving her to wonder why he would do this to her. She thought she was so much better than Rachel. Why would Tom do the same thing to her? That fateful night of the disappearance and murder, Tom could have been driving around with intentions to find and talk to Rachel. Meanwhile, Anna could have confronted Megan about the affair. When Megan became defensive and revealed that she was pregnant by Tom then attempted to walk away, Anna could have snapped out of pure rage and bashed her over the head with large rock. That’s about as far as I got with my alternate ending, but I think Anna would have made the perfect unexpected murderer with a solid motive.
Overall, The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller that is tastefully executed and clear of any plot holes. Every loose end is tied up, and while the perspectives of the female characters dominate the tale, the diversity of character voice adds depth and relieves many biases that could have otherwise been formed. Check out The Girl on the Train‘s silver screen debut on October 7, 2016 and check out the full review video below!