About the story in a few words
The narrative in this book is split between three characters, Rachel, Anna and Megan, offering us three very different perspectives on what happens. But, the girl on the train is Rachel, and she is the one that drives the story forward, while the other two inputs just add extra information.
Rachel is a dull woman, who loves alcohol a little bit too much. She is still clinging to her old life, in the perfect suburban house with the perfect husband (and their perfect sex). But now, she’s just another face on the train commuting to London for work, and she only sees her old house through the train window. To escape her miserable reality, she decides to ignore the house where she used to live in and in which her ex- husband with his new family lives now, and focus on another house, where a seemingly perfect couple live their seemingly perfect life. She imagines her own version of the couple’s life, and even nicknames them Jess and Jason. But the “normal” course of Rachel’s life is interrupted, when one morning she finds out from the paper that Jess, actually named Megan, has disappeared. Rachel feels like something she previously saw happening in Megan and her husband’s garden might be important information for the Police, that might actually help with finding what happened to the woman. The trouble is that she has to convince the Police that she, a stranger to the spouses, an alcoholic that doesn’t remember everything that she does, is a credible source. But, the important question is, why does she care? Why does she returns to her old neighbourhood and insists on helping Scott(Megan’s husband)? Is it because she hasn’t let go of her old life, is it just pure boredom, or is her alcohol damaged memory trying to say something to her?
Rachel is a weak person, and there is no doubt about it. She made some mistakes in the past, things got more and more complicated, and now she lives off her friend’s pity (and she’s aware of that). She has little to no money, but somehow she affords buying alcohol.
Halfway through the story she became annoying to me: it was obvious that something from deep down in her memory made her return to the neighbourhood in which she used to live, but she was either naive or too stupid to figure it out. But, as the story develops, we find out that all the other characters have their weakness, and the opinion that Rachel had about them is wrong. They’re all faulty, all the relationship have secrets or lies beneath the perfect image they project into daily life. They’re all hiding something, which makes the story more twisted and…realistic, in my opinion.
The writing has a cinematic feeling to it, and it kept me on the edge of my seat, so to speak. I could’t wait to come home or finish the house chores and read. Hawkins did a great job at structuring the story, revealing just enough each chapter to make me anxious and excited to read what happens next. I did have several ideas in mind about the plot twists and outcome, but this only made me more determined to find out how the characters are going to react to that, and the book delivered.
I especially liked the idea the author explores, how “just another face on the train”, or bus, or whatever public transportation hides a whole life behind it that we will never get to know. It is both an interesting exploration and an intriguing proposition to the reader to imagine what lies behind “the other”.
What I didn’t like
(I talk in-depth about these in the spoiler section below, but I wanted to mention them here too, for those who didn’t read the book)
- some things felt exaggerated
- Rachel seemed too naive at some point
- certain issues tackled aren’t relevant to the story or could have been left out
- some things were predictable
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and I would recommend it to anyone who is into contemporary psychological thrillers.
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SPOILERS AHEAD, so don’t read further if you haven’t read the book!
There are some issues that the author approaches in her story, and the most obvious one is alcoholism, and the question attached to it, “Can memory lie?”. Yes, it can, when you’re drunk and others take advantage of it in order to manipulate you, like Tom did with Rachel. Here we find another motif of Hawkin’s story, the lie that stands at the base of all the three marriages. Rachel was lied to by Tom, not only regarding his affair, but also about what happened when Rachel got drunk. Tom continues with his lies, this time with his new wife Anna, who he cheats on. Oh, and also, that he’s a murderer! Megan is also an adulterer, but also the mother who killed her own child at a young age. Everybody is flawed, and even though most of us aren’t hiding a crime or an affair, we still have our secrets, our own weaknesses.
What I didn’t like in the story was the fact that it was predictable, the only surprise was how the characters reacted. Also, I understand that Rachel wasn’t supposed to be a likable character, but at a certain point she kept repeating herself and she just seemed plain stupid, or let’s say…naive. I don’t know if that was intended. Also, what’s with all the women trying do define themselves just by being mothers and wives?! Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to be a mother and a great wife, but all the female characters didn’t seem to aspire in doing anything else but that. ALL of them, which felt weird to me. Also, it doesn’t matter how drunk you are, and how jealous you are, Rachel, you don’t go and grab someone else’s baby from their house, like a burglar! To keep it short, there were some things that felt exaggerated to me.