Hawkins provides a skilfully crafted turn on the typical memory loss novel. Her method of telling the tale from three different points of view gives the reader an opportunity to explore the characters and draw up their own theories and opinions. Hawkins adopts the Emily Brontë style of presenting her characters as people to be either loathed or pitied, as in Wuthering Heights. Whether this was her intent or not, it is an impressive tactic that forces the reader to focus on the plot and treat everyone as a suspect rather than becoming too emotionally attached to anyone. It also means that for a large part of the novel, the reader can’t possibly have a strong genuine idea of what to expect.
Opening the story in an insignificant train carriage, written from the perspective of an insignificant alcoholic prying on the insignificant lives of the occupants of the houses she passes on her daily route makes the story feel very real, as if it could be us sat in that carriage instead of Rachael. Already the reader is provoked to continue reading, wondering how the plot could possibly progress and blossom from here.
There appears to be a strong male hold on the novel. Each woman’s male dependency leads to her ultimate downfall. Rachael’s crumbling marriage ends with her husband’s infidelity, and despite the divorce she is unable to let go of the adoration she feels for him, enticing her to drink even more heavily. Megan’s impulsive desire to run off with every man she meets gives a shocking insight to her character and evidently causes her more trauma than it’s worth. Anna is presented as a person who craves male attention. She enjoys the rush of an affair and revels in having married men’s eyes glued to her in the street. This male dependency is what links the three strikingly different women together, forming a strong basis for the novel.
Issues such as alcoholism, adultery and domestic abuse are explored in detail, which allows the reader to view them from a new and interesting perspective. Often disputed as sensitive topics, Hawkins’ tackles them head on, writing confidently and emotively. This stylish method of story-telling is enough to keep anyone up all night, twitching in anticipation as the final few chapters are reached while the rising sun creeps in through the curtains. It’s not surprising that it allegedly kept Stephen King awake throughout the night.
A very exhilarating build-up leads to a somewhat predictable grand reveal (at least for the seasoned mystery fanatic). The climax becomes less believable and almost tedious for those who had sussed the mystery long before that point, though it reaches a dark and somewhat disturbing conclusion, which is a refreshing contrast to the typical ‘happily ever after’ novels.
On the whole, Paula Hawkins delivers a very smooth and digestible read that oozes intelligence and sophistication. It is no wonder that The Girl on the Train is a best-seller.