“The Girl on the Train”
Imagining something is better than remembering something. ~John Irving, The World According to Garp
Summertime is when everyone seems to be talking about “beach books”, which I never fully understood until I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The Urban Dictionary defines a “beach book” as “easily digestible, designed to be guzzled down from a cramped airline seat or reclining poolside chair” and although that definition seems more like a description of a beer to me, I finally realized that a beach book is like a refreshment or some tangy pineapple that may momentarily satisfy hunger when descriptive prose and depth are just too much to think about.
The Girl on the Train is the British version of Gone Girl, a psychological thriller in which a husband on his fifth wedding anniversary arrives home to find his wife missing. With a cast of dysfunctional characters, the story becomes a twisted tale of self-absorption and narcissism. The Girl on the Train is no different.
At the heart of the story is Rachel, a 34-year old alcoholic who has lost nearly everything: her marriage, her job, and most of her friendships. Unwilling to stop drinking but determined to keep up a facade, Rachel takes the commuter train every morning to London hoping that somehow her life will obtain some order although she does nothing to improve her lot and everything to sabotage it by continuing to drink excessively.
Each day the train passes by her previous home, where her ex-husband, Tom now lives with his new wife, Anna and their infant daughter. Three doors down is the home of Scott and Meghan, another young couple who seem to have it all but as the old cliche goes: “no one knows what’s going on in a marriage except those in it.” When Meghan goes missing, Rachel can’t help but get involved in the investigation thinking that she knows something that the police don’t. The problem is she can’t remember what she knows because she is so often drunk.
Told from the perspective of the three main female characters, Rachel (the alcoholic), Anna (the new wife), and Meghan (the missing woman), The Girl on the Train unfolds in predictable manner. Dysfunctional characters make a novel interesting but characters without depth and a novel without descriptive prose makes for a disappointing read, even if it’s on the beach. We all need escape at times and for those desiring a spoon fed version of murder mystery, The Girl on the Train is it. Or, wait to watch the movie of the week interpretation.