As someone who likes reading as much as I do, it took me a frighteningly long time to get round to starting on The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, the novel which – perhaps more than any other in the last decade – has become a total phenomenon.
It’s now the archetypal psychological thriller, and an inspiration for many similar novels to have followed. Indeed, the book proved so unbelievably popular, that barely a year after it was published, it had been adapted into a film starring Emily Blunt.
Why was the book so successful?
The Girl on the Train is told from the perspectives of three different women over the course of two different time frames, and all of their lives become inextricably connected, and – in the case of Rachel and Anna – entangled. We get to know what each of them thinks and feels, but we don’t know until the end, whether they are reliable narrators.
Readers were able to empathise with the insecurity of hapless alcoholic Rachel, and it’s her search for the truth which really drives the novel forward towards its dramatic conclusion. She reflects the desire of the reader to decipher what really happened to the victim, Megan, a multi-layered character haunted by past traumas.
It was a captivating story so full of complexity, but most of all it represented such a different take on what is essentially a basic premise. While Gone Girl is told from multiple perspectives and tenses, Hawkins goes a step further with The Girl on the Train and becomes a literary trailblazer in the process, with the help of some top-notch marketing.
My Book Verdict
Given all of the hype around The Girl on the Train, I had high expectations when I began reading it, and I can hardly say I was disappointed. It’s not perfect, but it certainly succeeds in grabbing my attention throughout and roping me into the mystery of what happened to Megan, and what’s more what would happen between Rachel and Anna.
Every interaction involving the three narrators carries great significance, as does every reference to their past lives. My only criticisms come regarding the big reveal as to who turned out to be the killer, and the ending. Hawkins does her best to shield the truth, but I managed to guess right earlier than I expected. The ending also could have been handled better, but on the whole, an excellent read.
Just a day after finishing the book, I decided to watch the film, which by lucky coincidence, had just appeared on Amazon Prime Video (don’t do Netflix!). I found it quite watchable, but in the end I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment.
The first thing which is clear to see is that the story has been Americanised, with the exception of Emily Blunt in the title role. That is not necessarily a problem, but it does take something away from the context of the story, while Blunt does at times seem out of place – the stereotypical Englishwoman in New York.
Blunt actually produces a reliably strong performance, but the character of Rachel seems very unstable and ethereal. Anna is given very little depth, and is doesn’t come across anywhere near as paranoid as she does in the book, while of the three, Megan is probably the most wholesome portrayal.
The supporting characters are very hit and miss. The two husbands, Scott and Tom, are in my humble opinion, miscast. You basically know who the bad guy is just through their general demeanour. As for Kamal Abdic the therapist, his significance is lost in a convoluted story.
You won’t find many contemporary books that carry as much significance as The Girl on the Train, for which Hawkins has made a name for herself as a first-rate and celebrated thriller writer.
The film was a disappointing reflection on her work, but as most of us book-lovers know only too well, there is rarely a film that we grow to adore more than the book on which it was based.