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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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I think it has been literally months, maybe even a year since I’ve posted anything. So I’m ashamed to admit I’m about to post a book review which should have been written ages ago given ‘The Girl on the Train’ was topping the charts a year ago…

However, the good news is that there’s a film version coming out this year with Emily Blunt taking the lead (she can act!) and I feel it is still worthy of a full blown review.

In a nutshell, this is the UK’s answer to ‘Gone Girl’ featuring a Chenin Blanc swilling London commuter. The familiar London setting is also a highlight, meaning it is disappointing that the film will be set in New York even if Blunt will remain British. The character she plays, Rachel Watson, is nothing like the quite glamorous former ‘cool girl’ Amy Dunne from the US novel. She makes her fellow commuters recoil in disgust and she has some grotesque habits (although I will expect Blunt’s Rachel to be much thinner and prettier even on her worst hangover day).

Rachel is also not as smart as Amy. She is similarly obsessive but her ability to manipulate is nowhere near as advanced, in fact, she frequently messes up in this sense. No, she is a stalker. An obsessive stalker.

The novel opens through her eyes and it is immediately addictive. I liked the way it was chopped into different scenes as it breaks up Rachel’s thoughts into concise insights into her life (as it turns out she doesn’t really have one; she lives in a fantasy world). And I think it is fair to say the author really focuses on female insecurity in particular: Rachel is rejected by her boyfriend after failing to have a child with him and he cheats on her.

She treats the next major character, Megan Hipwell, in a similar way. While Rachel is obsessed with the image she has of her, from watching her every day through the window during her train commute, she also turns out to be an anxious woman. Her apparently ‘perfect’ boyfriend Scott is in fact needy and a control freak who suffocates her leading to an affair with her therapist.

And so on…The only emotionally stable woman in the book is arguably Rachel’s flatmate but then you have to question her reasons for putting up with Rachel…

But as characters, they are well drawn out and the way the author switches from Rachel’s perspective to Megan’s is effective.

The story itself is full of suspense. Rachel’s observations of Megan and Scott are vivid and powerful while her stalking and blackouts are creepy. It also builds a picture in your head that somehow, she must have done something very wrong in yet another alcohol fuelled blackout so the twist is effective.

I felt the only significant weakness was that the ending was too unreal. It jumped from a slow-burning drama to a Hollywood action scene a little too abruptly.

But overall, I find it hard to fault a page-turner. I look forward to the film later this year…

 

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