“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, 336 pages, $26.95)
How many times have you been on a train and wondered about the people who live near the tracks and leave their curtains open so that passersby can watch them?
That voyeuristic view of lives as seen from a distance echoes the themes of obsession, isolation and loneliness explored in “The Girl on the Train.” British journalist Paula Hawkins deftly imbues her debut psychological thriller with inventive twists and a shocking denouement.
Rachel Watson does more than glance at the patio of the two-story house when her train makes its stop at a signal during the hour-long commute to London. She’s made up a scenario about a loving couple she calls Jason and Jess, imagining a happy life as they sip their coffee in the well-tended garden. Then one day Rachel spies the woman kissing another man – and her fantasy world undergoes a drastic change.
Rachel is no casual voyeur to the couple’s domestic scene. Two years earlier, when she was married, Rachel lived four doors down from the duo – whose real names are Scott and Megan Hipwell. Now often drunk, Rachel stalks her ex-husband, Tom Watson, and his current wife, Anna, following them in her former neighborhood, sneaking into their house, even trying to take their infant daughter. When Megan disappears, Rachel insinuates herself into the investigation and becomes friends with Scott. She also tries to stop drinking. “I am interested, for the first time in ages, in something other than my own misery. I have purpose. Or at least, I have a distraction.” Rachel also has a problem – she was spotted acting out of control in the neighborhood on the night Megan vanished.
Intense character studies complement the realistic plot. Hawkins creatively uses the unreliable narrator as “The Girl on the Train” alternates among the first-person recollections of Rachel, Anna and Megan. What each of these women doesn’t know about the other – and what they have surmised about each other’s lives – make for an energized story.
Hawkins delivers an original debut that keeps the exciting momentum of “The Girl on the Train” going until the last page.