*this review contains some spoilers but don’t worry I have kept the whodunnit a secret*
The Girl on the Train is a thrill from beginning to end and I think to dismiss this novel as another Gone Girl is to do it a great disservice. There was something grittier about Hawkins’ crime/mystery fiction than Gillian Flynn’s bestseller. Like Gone Girl, this novel takes on multiple viewpoints but unlike its predecessor Hawkins delves deep into the disturbing worlds of three female minds. As I mentioned in my initial Summer To-Read blog, I was excited by the fact that crime and mystery fiction is now being written by, about, and to some extent, for women.
The three female characters in the novel are Rachel, Anna and Megan. They are all connected by the same street and some overlapping lovers. It is not only a similar bad taste in men that binds these three women; Hawkins uses these three female narrators to push the plot along but also to deal with predominantly female concerns about motherhood:
“let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things—their looks and their role as mothers.”
From any other angle Rachel is a frustrating alcoholic on a path of self-destruction, I lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes at her ridiculous behaviour. However, through her own narrative, we learn that Rachel’s alcoholism and erratic behaviour is the result of her overwhelming sense of guilt and “hollowness” at being unable to fall pregnant and become a mother. Furthermore, she is frequently described as overweight and having lost her looks over the years. This underpins Hawkins’ point that women are only valuable if they are a mother or sexy. Since Rachel is neither, she spirals out of control and is only held together by her unstoppable determination to solve the mystery of Megan’s death.
Similarly, Megan’s self-destructive nature, her disinterest towards motherhood and her continual infidelity towards her husband (she is almost as eye-roll-inducing as Rachel) is revealed to be the product of traumatic events. It is her inability to cope with both the death of her brother and the death of her newborn, unwanted, baby when she is a young woman that leaves her ‘damaged.’ This isn’t about slut shaming the dead girl for her string of hapless love affairs, Hawkins makes Megan a complex and very real woman with more on her mind than sex and babies.
As for Anna, she seems to be one of the novel’s unexplained mysteries. On the surface she is the perfect twee housewife, afraid only of her husband’s psychotic ex-wife, but she is often portrayed as selfish and slightly sinister. When she tries to justify her affair with a married man or reacts bizarrely to the unveiling of the whodunnit, there is something cold and unfeeling about her behaviour that gives you shivers. I would love to read a prequel to this novel delving into Anna’s psyche. Ultimately, I think Hawkins is trying to show that being a mother does not necessarily make you all warm and cuddly and that there is certainly no one single way to be a woman.
The mystery in this novel is definitely suspenseful. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t read or watch a lot of crime, detective or mystery fiction but I was kept guessing right to the bittersweet end. I actually felt nervous (butterflies in my stomach etc) to finish it because I was so eagerly anticipating the big revelation. Would I say it was the most exciting and innovative endings imaginable? Maybe not and I suppose this is where it fails in comparison to its American predecessor Gone Girl for me but it certainly had me second-guessing and questioning myself as I turned each page.
I can’t wait to see how Tate Taylor translates this story from page to the big screen. I find it especially interesting to see crime and mystery novels be made into films as so much of the mystery can be reliant on the unseen aspect of the novel. I also look forward to seeing what Emily Blunt does with the character of Rachel (even if she is supposed to be fat with fading looks HA) and I hope the three female actresses really capture the multi-faceted nature of these dark and twisty narrators.