Staff Chat: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Article by Jeremy

The Chatters: Jeremy Ellis (General Manager) and Mary-Catherine Breed (Kids Specialist)

The Book: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Paula Hawkins' debut novel.

The Context: Heralded as the new GONE GIRL, this literary page-turner's subtlety sets it apart in a sea of wannabes.

The Plot: Rachel has lost her job, her husband, her home, and her happiness. She fills her days with cheap drinks while taking the train in and out of London just to ride by the home she once shared with Tom, her ex-husband--just to imagine how she could make life all right again. When Megan, a woman in the neighborhood, goes missing, Rachel becomes obsessed, thinking she may hold the clue to the disappearance...or maybe she’s the culprit?

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Mary-Catherine: A thrill ride! Compulsively readable!

Jeremy: Did you just get that off the cover?

MC: No, but it should be on the cover.

JE: Compulsive is perfect. With thrillers, if I’m not really invested in knowing what happened, I tend to get bored and wander away. But this book made me read to the end.

MC: Yes. There were several pressing mysteries throughout, which was nice.

JE: Well, there’s the obvious whodunnit…

MC: Of course. But the characters themselves were mysteries, too, because I knew they weren’t genuine. Reading the book was a process of figuring out who everyone really was.

JE: The book opens with Rachel staring out the train window in the morning, and you learn about her sad life and alcoholism. And then Hawkins jumps to the evening train ride home, focusing on Rachel’s obsession with the house and the fantasy about the neighbors perfect lives. I thought, “If Rachel just this sad sack the entire book…” She’s drunk, dumb, and, you know, pathetic. She’s a hard character to love, but I did come to like her a lot.

MC: Me too. I was somehow always on her side. And part of that might have been the form, because we only see her on the train in the morning and the evening. What did you think about that?

JE: I liked not having to spend a whole day with her.

MC: Yeah, that would have been too much. It was enough to see her on the train with her numerous gin and tonic cans. Why don’t we have gin and tonic cans right now? Do they not make those here? I know they make champagne in cans.

JE: Really?

MC: Uh huh. Champers. Champ-cans. Anyway, I liked the way Rachel’s drunkenness was portrayed. It felt like a different kind of drunk from what you usually see.

JE: It’s authentic. No glamour in the booze here. She’s trying to hide it--and you hope she can--but then she throws up on the stairs and falls asleep in it.

MC: That part made me cringe. How did her roommate not kick her out years before?

JE: That’s the thing, though. All the people around her more or less enable the horrible individual Rachel’s become.

MC: After Megan disappears and it becomes obvious to us that Rachel has some connection to whatever happened, she appears to pull it together in the eyes of the other characters. She wants to solve the mystery, but she goes about it in the craziest ways. I had moments when I thought, “She’s insane.” I don’t know whether I ever thought she was the villain, but all the twists were plausible, which is rare. The book would try to lead me somewhere and I would think, “Okay. This is legitimate. We need to explore this.”

JE: The reveal at the end was not one that I anticipated, but it was pretty great. The book is worth recommending. It’s fast and fun when it gets moving. Really, once the book introduces voices other than Rachel’s, things really start to happen. It’s a literary thriller, but it’s a thriller.

MC: A solid one. It’s inevitably going to be compared to GONE GIRL. And there are similar elements, sure, but GIRL ON THE TRAIN is much more emotional--a deeper character study. You get to see the events from multiple perspectives, and it’s not as insular as GONE GIRL, where the only perspectives are the people inside the relationship. There are layers here.

JE: GIRL ON THE TRAIN is absolutely more character driven. I was surprised when Anna [Tom’s new wife] was introduced as a voice. Up until that moment, the author had alternated between the two voices--Rachel’s and Megan’s. But then we hear from Anna, and she’s obsessed with Rachel? That complicates everything.

MC: Mostly when I read thrillers, I’m interested in finding out who the killer is, and once I know, I’m finished. But the ending made me want to read the book again. I think that impulse really speaks to its literary merit.

JE: The three voices are distinct, and that helps. Rachel made terrible choices, but I understood all of them. She convinced me. I could say, “Yeah, okay, go ahead. You have my permission to move forward in this plot.”

MC: I loved her. She was fat. She was sweaty. She was greasy. In all the best ways.

JE: Let’s talk Hollywood casting. Charlize Theron?

MC: Jennifer Aniston will do anything for an Oscar.

JE: Jennifer Aniston’s not a bad choice. I can imagine her as a plain Jennifer Aniston, without the famous hair…a very different Rachel.

MC: That would be the headline on every article: “In her gutsiest role yet, Jennifer Aniston brings you, a very different Rachel.” And she’d have a British accent. I’d love to see that.


The Girl on the Train Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9781594633669
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - January 13th, 2015

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