God bless Stephen King. Had he not posted on social media about how he enjoyed The girl on the train, I would likely have never picked up this book and my world would have been deprived of a wonderfully tragic story.
I want to call this a coming of age re: romance story, and it has an air of the Gothic to it, with overbearing male characters and a sort of unreality because of Rachel’s frequent inebriation. It is not a romance story, really, but rather a twist of the conventional detective story. Rachel is not a hard-boiled detective by any stretch of the imagination (she goes to investigate the therapist, and ends up becoming a real patient), but it is an investigative tale nonetheless.
This is a story about flawed characters, to be sure. That each character is ‘a hot mess’ as a Goodreads reviewer wrote, is what’s charming about the story. The fact that each character has flaws is an enhancement to the story, not a detraction from it. Each and ever one of the five starts this book earned were well deserved. Rachel’s drinking, the thing that attracted me to this story in the first place (again, thank you, Mr. King) is what makes this story possible. It would have been a whole different story, and perhaps not as unique a one, had we not watched Rachel try to climb her way out of a bottle to learn the truth about what happened to Megan.
Throughout the course of the novel, the reader experiences a roller coaster with the two main characters. Rachel spends a great deal of the story drunk, and you really want her to not stop at the pub or go and buy that wine. It gets to a point where you think she’s going to drink herself to death and maybe get hit by one of those trains she loves so much, but once the truth is revealed about her marriage a clearer understanding comes to the reader, and to Rachel herself. Megan’s infidelity, likewise, makes us not like her. How could she be cheating on such a great guy? But is he that great asks Dr. Abdic? And that her baby died and she hid the fact speaks volumes about Megan. However, we must consider the circumstances here, too. This was a young girl, not yet eighteen, who had just lost a beloved brother, and who was using drugs. And she admits herself she wasn’t the most attentive mother, but the baby’s death was an accident brought on by ignorance rather than downright neglect or cruelty. And Megan has obviously been carrying around that burden for a decade, proving that she was not immune to her baby’s death.
There is a third point of view character, Anna. I have excluded her as a protagonist in this story, because she has the complete reverse story arc to Rachel and Megan. Sure we feel sympathy for her in the beginning, a new mother having to deal with her husband’s ‘crazy’ ex-wife. That would be difficult to deal with for anyone. As the story goes on, however, we learn that she is, as Rachel put it, perfectly suited for Tom. And in the end we see that she is – actually twisting the corkscrew in a little more, whereas he had done such a thing to Rachel, but verbally. And of course, Anna was the calm one when all was said and done.
If there’s a fault in the book (and I might be mis-laying blame pre-reread) it is that Tom ‘s character seems to do a huge about face. Yes, we know he cheated on Rachel, but to then learn that he was a sociopath, too? It seems like a stretch. To have killed Megan in the heat of passion, sure, but to be cold and calculating when it comes to Rachel – a bit of a stretch. A re-read may be in order to see what Easter eggs are hidden in the earlier part of the book that I missed in my haste to find out who killed Megan (oops, spoiler alert).
Whether this is a modern retelling of the old detective stories, or a tarnished romance, The Girl on the Train is a highly enjoyable read, a page turner. I wonder if it might be more enjoyable if read whilst on a train?