11 min read ⌚
What if you are the only witness of something peculiar and there’s a whole lot of reasons why you shouldn’t believe your own memory?
And what if you decide to, nevertheless, do?
Paula Hawkins answers these questions in her spell-binding thriller debut:
Who Should Read “The Girl on the Train”? And Why?
Well, if you are living somewhere in the United Kingdom, based on the sheer number of sold copies, chances are you’ve already read The Girl on the Train.
If, on the other hand, you live in the United States, based on the amount of money the movie managed to earn, it’s highly likely that you’ve at least seen the Tate Taylor adaptation for the screens.
If, however, you belong to neither of these groups and you don’t know what all the fuss is about, then allow us to give you a few reasons why you shouldn’t skip this one: alcohol, drug abuse, domestic violence, sex affairs, murder, and, of course, twists… oh, so many twists.
So, the next time you want to read something gripping and attention-grabbing, but you don’t have an idea what – do yourself a favor and pick up this book. Especially if you enjoy Hitchcock movies or books/films such as Gone Girl or The Woman in the Window.
Paula Hawkins Biography
Paula Hawkins is a Zimbabwe-born British author
She was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia (present-day Harare, Zimbabwe) and spent most of her life working as a journalist for The Times, reporting on business-related topics. She also wrote for a number of other publications as a freelancer and even authored a finance-related book for women, The Money Goddess.
In 2009, Hawkins decided to try her hand in fiction; and, under the pseudonym Amy Silver, she published four romantic comedy novels in the following five years: Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista (2009), All I Want for Christmas (2010), One Minute to Midnight (2011) and The Reunion (2013). Neither of these four books brought her commercial success.
However, her fifth one – and the first one under her real name – The Girl on the Train was a resounding success. Written during a financially difficult period for Hawking, the book brought her international acclaim and many positive reviews.
A bestseller in many countries, The Girl on the Train still holds the record for most weeks ever spent by a book on the UK hardback book chart (20). By October 2016, the book had sold 15 million copies; that same month, a movie based on the book and starring Emily Blunt came out.
Since Girl on the Train, Paula has written published one more psychological thriller: Into the Water. However, this one wasn’t as successful and received mixed reviews.
If you want to hear a 30-second spoiler-free summary of The Girl on the Train good enough to tell you straight away whether you should read the book or watch the movie, allow us to suggest to you one done by none other than Emily Blunt.
If, however, you want to find out everything there is to know with regards to the novel’s plotline in no more than 15 minutes – then read ahead!
We may not be as beautiful and as elegant as Emily – let’s face it: not many people are – but we promise that we’ll compensate that with extensiveness and thoroughness.
Two things you should know from the start:
1. The Girl on the Train is told from the point of view of three different women – Rachel Watson, Anna Watson, and Megan Hipwell – which makes recounting it a bit difficult and much less interesting than actually reading it; and
2. Not all of these three first-person female narrators are reliable; so, don’t believe everything they say.
And off we go.
It’s July 2013, and Rachel Watson is a 32-year-old woman riding a train to London; so, naturally, she is the girl on it, a. k. a. the title character.
But, where is she going?
Well, just like every day, she is going to work.
The only problem with that story is that she lost her job a while ago and, the last time we checked, drinking alcohol doesn’t really qualify as a job.
Unfortunately, that’s what she does most of the time; and that’s what cost her her job in the first place. It also may have caused her her marriage as well: soon enough, we learn that her former husband Tom left her for another woman, after repeatedly complaining that she harasses him during her alcohol binges.
It’s not exactly something Rachel can remember, though: due to her unhealthy habits, she often has blackouts.
Anyway, one of Rachel’s favorite habits – in addition to drinking, of course – is voyeurism. That’s why she rides the commuter train on a daily basis: it allows her to observe the people around her. Naturally, she supposes they do the exact same thing:
There are familiar faces on these trains, people I see every week, going to and fro. I recognize them, and they probably recognize me. I don’t know whether they see me, though, for what I really am.
However, Rachel is not most interested in the people on the train; it’s two couples she can only observe through the window that interest her the most.
One of these couples is none other than Tom and his new wife, Anna Watson. The two have a baby daughter, Evie, which is something Rachel was never able to gift Tom. In fact, her inability to conceive is what made her start drinking in the first place.
The other couple – just a few houses apart – are Jess and Jason; or so Rachel calls them. Truth is she has absolutely no idea who they are, let alone what are their names. She is obsessed with them because, for no particular reason, she believes that they are the perfect couple.
In real life, Jess is actually Megan Hipwell, our third narrator. And, as far as she is concerned, her life couldn’t be more boring; which is why she wants to have a little fun on the side, taking a series of lovers.
One day, as the train is slowly passing by her house, Rachel sees one of them kissing her.
And just a few days later, learns that Megan has disappeared on that very day.
The newspapers mention everything but the man Rachel has seen. So, naturally for someone who has absolutely nothing else to do, she decides that it is her duty to inform the husband, whose real-life name is Scott Hipwell.
And so she does.
She tells him that she knew Megan and that Megan, well, you know.
Soon enough, she forms a friendship with Megan’s husband, and together they find out the identity of the man Megan was cheating him with: Dr. Kamal Abdic.
Suddenly, the doctor becomes a suspect, and he is called in for questioning by the police. He denies having an affair with Megan and is promptly released due to insufficient evidence.
Of course, that means one more job for the jobless Rachel.
She schedules an appointment with Dr. Abdic, acting as if she needs a therapy session; which, if you’ve even vaguely understood the story so far, she undeniably and undoubtedly does need.
A true professional, Dr. Abdic realizes – we guess – two seconds into the meeting. So, as Rachel analyzes him to see if he’s lying, he analyzes her to see how desperately in need of a discussion with a therapist she has been for a while now.
The result of the staredown?
Rachel realizes that Dr. Abdic is not only (most probably) innocent but that he is also a pretty good therapist since he manages to help her almost immediately.
Strangely enough, Rachel is called for questioning by Detective Riley as well.
She was seen in Megan’s neighborhood the night Megan disappeared.
Rachel remembers nothing of this sort because it was just a regular day for her, meaning she was drunk enough to generate another hole in her cheese-like memory.
Which reminds us of a haunting quote from the novel, actually uttered by Megan (and referring to something you’ll about to find), but, in practice, equally applicable to Rachel as well:
Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps.
In the meantime, Rachel’s flatmate, Cathy, realizes that Rachel has been lying about going to her job for quite some time now and is pretty angry with her. Especially in view of the fact that Rachel contributes with nothing to their relationship, continually drinking herself blind (literally) and making messes all around.
And also – she promised to stay with Cathy for a short time when she moved in with her. And that was more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, Megan’s body is found buried in the woods. New info complicates matters even more: it’s found out that Megan was pregnant when she was murdered and that the baby was neither Dr. Kamal’s nor Scott’s!
Whether out of grief or out of something else, this leads to a one-night stand between Scott and Rachel.
Rachel eventually remembers something: she wasn’t in Megan’s neighborhood alone; her ex-husband Tom and his new wife were with her as well.
She visits Tom and Anna’s house to discuss this, but the action backfires since Rachel is not exactly a favorite of Anna.
How could she be?
Unable to get over the dissolution of her marriage, we learn that Rachel constantly visits Tom and Anna and, since she is also constantly drunk, harasses them on a fairly regular basis.
Now, Anna goes to the police and tells them a few things about Rachel. And these few things reach the ears of Scott, who is – understandably – pretty mad to find out that Rachel wasn’t a friend of his wife, but, basically a stalker who intruded his life on a false premise.
So, he lashes out at her and, being quite drunk and angry, he locks her into a room. Coupled with the fact that (according to a previous statement by Dr. Kamal) Scott is abusive enough to not be beyond suspicion, Megan’s husband suddenly becomes the main suspect in Rachel’s eyes.
But, wait a minute!
Scott’s angry fit awakes a repressed memory in the mind of Rachel: something terrible happened in the underpass, and it had something to do with Tom.
On the train, she bumps into a red-haired man who remembers seeing her the night of Megan’s disappearance. A brief discussion with him reveals to Rachel something that changes the nature of her memory altogether.
Namely, Tom wasn’t with Anna in the underpass, but with none other than Megan!
Well, it’s becoming rather obvious what must have happened by now with Megan and who and why decided to shut her up.
Cue for a much necessary flashback.
During her therapy session with Dr. Kamal Abdic on the night of her death, Megan revealed to him that she had had an affair that had left her pregnant.
Dr. Kamal advised her to tell Scott, giving her a friendly kiss at the end for encouragement and inspiration.
And that’s the kiss Rachel sees while passing by Megan and Scott’s house.
Scott doesn’t take the news well and assaults Megan who runs for protection to Tom. One bad decision to follow another one.
Not wanting to ruin his life with Anna, Tom asks Megan to have an abortion. However, that’s the last thing on Megan’s mind. And for a reason: while still a teenager, Megan fell asleep in a tub and, thus, was responsible for the death of her newborn baby Libby. (Now you can understand Megan’s hollowness as well.)
It seems that everyone in this book is not that fun to be around with when faced with bad news.
And Megan is no exception: Tom’s suggestion for an abortion irks her, and she starts threatенing him that she will tell everybody about their affair.
And that’s when Tom killed her.
It’s now time for the epilogue.
And for a much necessary answer to the question: what the hell was Rachel doing with Tom and Megan on the night of the murder?
And how does
The Girl on the Train Epilogue
At about the same time that Rachel remembers that she was with Tom and Megan the night Megan was killed, Anna discovers a secret telephone in Tom’s gym bag.
It turns out that there are messages on it sent to another woman.
When she dials the phone number and hears the voicemail, Anna realizes that these messages were sent to Megan.
But why would Tom talk to Megan when she was merely a babysitter for Evie and just for a relatively brief period of time?
Oh, come on Anna!
That shouldn’t even be a rhetorical question!
Just moments after Anna uncovers the secret phone, Rachel appears at her doorstep. Only this time, it’s not just one of her regular what-are-you-doing-with-my-life visits; this time Rachel wants to help Anna and Evie escape from a murderer.
Apparently, Anna hates Rachel much more than she loves her own life, so even though she’s pretty sure that Tom must have killed Megan herself, she declines the help.
Tom comes home at this point and, confronted by Anna, he confesses to everything: the cheating, the baby, the murder. The psychopath that he is, he manages to cow Anna – frightened for Evie’s safety – into obedience.
However, Rachel has an entirely different plan.
Especially since in the meantime she has realized that Tom is basically a supervillain.
You see, almost everything bad she remembered about her past behavior was actually a product of her imagination, planted in there by Tom. (It’s a tactic called gaslighting after a 1938 play adapted into two 1940s movies you should see).
Needless to say, Rachel has no intention of remaining silent about anything. Tom attacks her, but she manages to stab him in the neck with a corkscrew. Anna joins in and twists the corkscrew deep enough to be sure that he is dead.
The two former foes coordinate their stories and support each other when the police arrive. Their stories are believable (they killed him in self-defense) and Tom’s lies are finally exposed.
Rachel decides to take a vacation to clear her mind a bit and decide what she will do next with her life. Presumably, because riding the train jobless and spying on other people is not something she would want to do ever again.
We wish her all the luck in the world.
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“The Girl on the Train Summary Quotes”Life is not a paragraph, and death is no parenthesis. (via E. E. Cummings) Click To Tweet I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Click To Tweet There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home. Click To Tweet It’s possible to miss what you’ve never had, to mourn for it. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: both novels feature unreliable narrators and the Lynchian underbelly of the seemingly ideal suburban life.
However, as Paula Hawkins points out herself, there’s one big difference: “Amy Dunne is a psychopath, an incredibly controlling and manipulative, smart, cunning woman. [Rachel is] just a mess who can’t do anything right.”
And maybe this is what makes The Girl on the Train even more absorbing and relational than Gone Girl. Addicting and chilling, it is already considered an unputdownable page-turning classic of the psychological thriller genre – barely four years after publication.
And that should tell you something.