The Girl on the Train isn’t sexy and broken like the other bad girls of popular lit—the ones who are Dragon Tattooed or sociopathically Gone. She is, in fact, a wreck: Unemployed, overweight, painfully divorced, and prone to shotgunning sauvignon blanc for breakfast, Rachel Watson commutes every day to London from her sad suburban flat-share not because she has anywhere to be—she was let go from a PR firm months ago after one too many liquid lunches—but because she hates to admit that she doesn’t. It’s also a route that happens to bring her past the house she used to share with her ex-husband, now happily ensconced there with his new wife and baby. She can’t help peering in as she passes daily (who could?), but it’s the neighbors a few doors down whom she looks for more and more—a young couple whose pantomime of marital bliss captivates her from her window seat: ”They’re happy, I can tell…. They’re what I’ve lost, they’re everything I want to be.”
Until one hot July morning, when things suddenly look less idyllic. Rachel sees the fine-boned blonde she calls Jess (”it fits her, pretty and carefree as she is”) kissing a man on the back patio who is not her husband. Riveted and atypically sober, Rachel takes it in with all the fresh anger of her own betrayal and later, less soberly, decides to step off at her old station ”just to see.” She wakes up the next day bruised and brutally hungover with only a few dim memories of the night before. Within hours a local news brief with a familiar photograph appears: Jess has been reported missing. Except her real name isn’t Jess, of course; it’s Megan, and as the novel picks up Megan’s own first-person thread, the gears of Train‘s central mystery begin to churn.
Investing in narrators who aren’t just unreliable but often hard to like isn’t always easy. First-time novelist Paula Hawkins is playing a long game, though, and she pulls off a thriller’s toughest trick: carefully assembling everything we think we know, until it reveals the one thing we didn’t see coming. A-
THE OPENING LINES
”There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish?”