The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

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Few narrators are as unreliable as Rachel. The main reason her memory and interpretation of events cannot be trusted is that she is an alcoholic. No-one, but no-one, has written so well about creeping hangover dread as Tom Wolfe: for journalist Peter Fallow in The Bonfire Of The Vanities, ‘whatever he had done was submerged like a monster at the bottom of a cold dark lake. His memory had drowned in the night, and he could feel only the icy despair…The beast would come popping to the surface on its own and show him its filthy snout.’ For Rachel, that is how pretty much how every morning starts. The Girl On The Train has a recognisable lineage. Readers of Gone Girl will recognise the ‘he said-she said’ structure (or in this case, ‘she said-she said’), while there is something of Memento in the narrator’s inability to remember crucial details which would move the plot forward. There is also a touch of Rear Window about the way in which Rachel spies from the train on her morning commute a young couple around whom she constructs an elaborate narrative. We soon learn why Rachel is so interested in this apparently random house and its occupants, Megan and Scott. Rachel’s emotional life is on the point – perhaps beyond it – of collapse. Then Megan disappears. Rachel knows she has important information about this, but since that information comes from one of her utterly desperate benders on a Saturday night, retrieving it is going to prove tricky. It becomes pleasantly impossible to know who has done what – if anything – to whom. The police are sceptical. Hawkins has a nice line in inducing stomach-wrenching changes of allegiance as an odd phrase or revelation makes you realise people may not be so nice/trustworthy after all. It is, I think, relatively easy for the reader to sketch out the conclusion of Megan’s story. But the ‘why’ and ‘how’ are up in the air and Hawkins has the happy ability to create tension in a manner that is as manipulative as any of her characters. By the time Rachel’s monster shows its snout above the water, it may be too late.

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