Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Dziewczyna z pociągu - Paula Hawkins

Initial reaction: I wanted to like this one so much more than I did, but it was one of those reads I felt fit the very definition of "great premise, lacking execution."

Full review:

I gave myself a few days to think about my reaction to this book, to see whether it would tip towards more positive reflections, critical reflections, or stay the same. Ended up remaining right where it was.

"The Girl on the Train" sounded like a book I would like from the premise, for sure. Especially given that I've been on a good reading streak for a while from perusing books that came recommended from my local library as "recs" to those who liked Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl," and I was in a good mood for a mystery/suspense/thriller with crime leanings. I must've been living under a rock or something, because I didn't hear about the accolades of this book at all, and picking it up, I was not only blind, but baffled that the number of holds at my library for the digital copies of this book went into the triple digits. Luckily, I snagged an audiobook version. The audio was narrated very well between three respective narrators representing the viewpoints in this book, but as for the book's content itself? Well...

The primary POV of this book comes from Rachel, a woman who has a very rampant drinking problem. With that addiction, she blocks off memories of things she's done while being stone drunk. She's not the most likable person (understatement), but she's apparently terrible when she's drunk based on her inability to let go of her former husband's relationship with his new wife (Anna). But Rachel can't let go of a certain story that's been in the news as of late - about a woman (Megan) who's gone missing and no one's heard from her since her disappearance. Rachel believes she knows something's off about Megan, since from one of her usual trips on the train, she observed Megan kissing another man.

The narrative navigates Rachel's in-and-out of drunken states in a cumbersome way, and I didn't like how plodding the portrayal was. In some ways, the idea of her not remembering and feeling the horror of having done something terrible was appealing and worth being on the edge of one's seat about, but I didn't always feel that gripping sense of worry. I felt the tension was cut one too many times and it took forever for Rachel to reach some measure of clarity/certainty of events. This wasn't a very good example of unreliable narration, because it wasn't always purposeful withholding of information, it was a combination of uncovering/gradually coming to terms with the reality It was haphazard in the delivery, and I struggled to maintain interest even when there were good sequences vetting out the characters and their respective relationships.

Anna and Megan were the other POVs provided in this narrative, as the timeline jumped between the present and past. Anna has had her fill of Rachel since Rachel seems to not want to leave her or Tom alone in their respective marriage. At one point, Rachel snatches Anna's baby during one of her drunken states, even sends them harassing and denouncing messages between drunken states. It's explained that Tom cheated on Rachel and left her for Anna, with whom they eventually had a child together. Yet, Rachel seems unwilling to let the relationship go, and struggles with bouts of depression and desperation. Anna is frustrated also that Tom continues to placate Rachel, especially when the police become involved in investigations about Megan's disappearance (since Megan used to babysit for them).

Megan is revealed to have been in a series of troubled relationships, and ultimately as her perspective became more prominent, more answers to the lingering questions over her disappearance and relationships come to light. But it's still a slog getting there, as Rachel's POV is used not only to supplement her binge drinking pursuits, but also stumble through some very awkward encounters as Rachel tries to self-insert herself in finding out what happened to Megan. Some of this involves pursing a relationship with Megan's husband, Megan's therapist, etc. Some of it I had to suspend disbelief for, but ultimately there were a number of holes in the development and outcome of this respective case. I felt like the steps leading up to the big reveal were cumbersome and threw me out of the story in certain points. I did like the overarching mystery, and ultimately the exploration through Rachel's coming to terms with her issues and finding out what happened to Megan (as well as a harrowing encounter towards the end), but I wasn't all that impressed especially since - given this book draws comparisons to "Gone Girl" - the execution wasn't as strong as the latter mention. I think there were moments of the book where I couldn't help but think of "Gone Girl" for the plot reveals and parallels even with it being a completely different story and outcome of events.

I liked parts of "The Girl on the Train" but ultimately, it was the execution that made me struggle through the novel and left me wanting more from the experience.

Overall score: 2/5 stars.