British,  Crime fiction

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins

My Twitter feed went crazy last summer when proof copies of Paula Hawkins’ debut novel The Girl on the Train were being distributed by the Transworld publicity department. I arrived a bit late, but luckily Alison Barrow put me on a waiting list and I was lucky enough to get a review copy of the second bunch they produced. As it usually happens, everyone was right. This is an extraordinary novel.


Buy at Book Depository

From Goodreads:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

The Girl on The Train is not a classical psychological thriller, it is rather a very complex, modern and deep novel. Rachel, the main character, may be the most unlikable main character in 21st fiction since Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. She is the imagine of middle-class wife gone wrong. Historically, middle-class values have been constructed as pure and squeaky clean, and it was women who were responsible to perpetuate this image. However, things changed in the 20th century with feminism and women’s entrance into the working force and this image was no longer sustainable. Rachel has emotional troubles that have affected her entire mind and body, and the is also the embodiment of how society can destroy women who do not fit into middle-class respectability. Directly related to this construction is that of a motherhood that nullifies the woman’s identity previous to given birth. But I will not say a word more, because Hawkins explores this issue in-depth.

The crime itself is really good as well, because directly derived from middle-class respectability comes the value of truth. Can a woman outside the symbolic system of representation that is patriarchal middle class tell the truth? Or, let’s put it the other way round: Who does society tend to believe, a prostitute’s word or a middle-class wife and mother? I found it very interesting that Hawkins decided to explore the consequences of such a change. Because the idea of a fluid society with total mobility despite gender, race, education and social class is what democracy is supposed to be, but reality is quite different, especially if you are a woman. Identities are constructed in two directions: the one we want to show the world, and the one the world assigns us. The people Rachel see from the train, are they real? Or are they a projection of her own troubles and desires?

So, The Girl on The Train is one of the best novels that I have read in 2014, and probably the best debut novel of the year. I read it in three sittings because I could not put it down. Not only is the crime/mystery addictive, but Rachel’s struggles with her own identity could have very well sustained the novel.

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins comes out on 15th January 2015. Don’t forget to pre-order it!

Also, stay tuned for a very special post at Books & Reviews.



  • crimeworm

    Like Marina Sofia, I think I’ll be getting stuck into this very soon – this is the second amazing review I’ve read this week on the blogosphere, so I think it’s going to be one I’ll read while at my parents’ for Xmas. Also STILL need to read The Woman Upstairs – thanks for the reminder! Great review Elena!

  • Beth

    I read this, too. So I’m surprised at your good review. I don’t think this book is that good, although I will agree that it kept my attention.

    Riverhead, the publisher, is simply doing a great marketing job for this book, right down to its very clever cover. But after all the hype, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN disappointed me. It probbly isn’t as unputdownable as they claim until the last couple of chapters.

    The girl on the train is a raging alcoholic who has opinions about people that are often based on nothing and are always wrong. The entire book is about her alcoholic blackouts and figuring out what really happened.

    A lot of things about this book aggravated me. The biggest aggravation is difficult to describe without saying too much and spoiling the story. It has to do with how everything is explained in the end. It really wouldn’t happen that way and is too hard to swallow.

    I won this ARC from the publisher and

    • Elena

      Well, to each her own, obviously, but the fact that you don’t remember Rachel’s name and describe her has a ‘raging alcoholic’ says a lot about how audiences respond to unlikable characters. Had she been a squeaky clean middle-class wife, mother of 2, she would have probably had more credibility for readers, and that is one of the key points of my review: how we respond to liminal main characters. All addictions are troublesome, but if you read carefully, her comes from a long line of marital emotional abuse, which pretty much does the work for the social role of crime fiction in society.

      As for what would ‘really’ happen, well, it’s fiction. Umberto Eco already stated the agreement between reader and writer when one picks up the pen – or sits at the keyboard – and the other one opens the book. Either you sign that agreement contract giving the author the benefit of the doubt and enter that parallel universe – that has nothing to do with reality – or you don’t.

  • A Little Blog of Books

    I really enjoyed this too and will be posting my review after new year. It’s a great concept which is very well executed. I also don’t think I have come across a female alcoholic narrator before or at least not in a modern crime fiction novel.

    • Elena

      That is so great! I don’t think I have either. Other kinds of unreliable narrators, yes, but not an alcoholic, middle-aged woman. Thanks for highlighting that and welcome to Books&Reviews 🙂

      • crimeworm

        The alcoholism would leave you with her unreliability being more understandable, if that makes sense…although I don’t know to what extent the author uses that. It’s definitely next on my TBR on the Kindle though…look forward to your review, A Little Blog Of Books! Wonder if it’ll be as complimentary as the two I’ve read already?

Don't forget to share what you think!