I’ve gone back and forth in thinking about Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train. Is Rachel’s blackout a clever editorial choice or is it a cheap trick? The blackout is what drives the reader to finish the book. We want to know what happened the night Rachel blacked out while drunk and Megan disappeared. Rachel wants to know as well, though she’s tentative.
When I was at a talk listening to a writer (I’ve since forgot whom), they talked about novels and stories answering questions. How does memory define us? What happens if I leave my homeland with this old man and join the rebellion? What happens when an adolescent is sucked into the violence of the West in the 1840’s? The Girl On The Train asks who killed Megan? Why I found that an unsatisfying question was that I knew who it was a quarter of the way through the book. It becomes a boring read. Does the question morph into what will Rachel do when she discovers who killed Megan? That might have been a more interesting question if the characters in The Girl On The Train weren’t so dismal. Another, deeper question could be how well do you know someone? That question is richer, but for me it overshadowed by Megan’s death.
What intrigues me about Rachel’s blackout is that it’s a locked room mystery, which takes place in her head. She was there. She knows she witnessed something. Yet, she doesn’t remember. The killer interacted with her. Snuck into her perception when the metaphorical lightning flashed and the power went out, and in that span: murder. But, that twist doesn’t make up for the novels deficits.
The characters are mostly petty and shallow. I didn’t identify with any of them, nor did I especially sympathize with them, accept for Megan in the last twenty pages of the novel. The detectives in the novel seem outrageously bumbling. I couldn’t believe they were surprised by the outcome and didn’t suspect the murderer. Finally, the murderer becomes a cliché, needlessly explaining how Megan died and why she needed to be killed.
The Girl On The Train draws readers in with a quick pace, clear writing, and shifting perspectives that keeps one engaged. After being drawn in though, I wanted something more. I wanted to be surprised.