The Girl on the Train
January 15, 2015
336 pages (hardcover)
A couple months back, I got all up in arms about memoirs and vowed never to read another one (at least for the foreseeable future). Today, I have something new to gripe about: vapid, inconsistent, silly, stupid, annoying, and weak female characters . . . especially when they’re written by female authors. And this book has them in spades.
The Girl on the Train is told from the perspective of three highly annoying female characters. You have Rachel (the titular girl on the train), highly annoying female character #1, who tells about 80 percent of the story. She is clearly an unreliable narrator. She is a raging alcoholic who was fired from her job several months ago for getting sloshed at lunch, losing an important client, and coming back to the office drunk. She is divorced from her husband and living at a friend’s house. She hasn’t told her friend that she was fired from her job, so she still takes the train to London every day and spends the hours wandering around, going to the library, and getting wasted. On the train, she watches people on their patios and terraces, imagining lives (and names and personalities) for them. In the evenings, she calls her ex-husband and professes her undying love for him, despite the fact that he’s clearly moved on.
And with whom has he moved on? Why, Anna, of course, highly annoying female character #2. Anna thinks very highly of herself. She was Rachel’s husband’s mistress, and she was proud to be a mistress. She found it exciting, and she loved that she was desired by a man who already had a wife. Needless to say, she’s pretty deplorable. She and Tom (Rachel’s ex, Anna’s current husband) and their baby (whom they conceived while Rachel was still married to Tom, of course) now reside in the house that Tom and Rachel used to live in together. And Rachel passes the house every day on her train ride to London.
Lastly, there’s Megan, highly annoying female character #3. She lives a couple doors down from Anna and Tom, in another of the houses that Rachel passes on her commute (Rachel imagines that her name is Jess and that her husband’s name is Jason, and she daydreams about them regularly). Megan has a sordid past (prostitution, drugs, the whole nine yards), and now she’s a bored housewife. Her husband isn’t the greatest, but he loves her and wants nothing more than to start a family with her. In return, she just lies to and cheats on him.
Even the minor female characters in this book are awful. There’s Megan’s acquaintance from Pilates who is lonely and desperate (and whom Megan uses as a cover when she’s cheating on her husband). There’s the bitchy female detective. There’s Megan’s pushy mother-in-law. There’s Rachel’s push-over roommate, who lets Rachel take advantage of her repeatedly (despite numerous threats to evict Rachel).
Here’s what I realized while reading this book: a book without any likeable characters is a book that is very hard to like. And a book with a bunch of deplorable characters? Miserable.
Look, this is a highly readable book. The book (at least in the beginning—this structure breaks down toward the end) is told largely during the daily commute to and from London, so, on any given day, there’s a snippet in the morning and a snippet in the evening. It has short, easily digestible chapters and moves quickly.
The premise is this: Megan goes missing. No one knows where she is, where she’s gone, or what might have happened to her. But, sad-sack Rachel thinks she can help (despite never having met Rachel) for two reasons: 1) she saw Megan nearly every day from the train (and noticed something shortly before her disappearance that she thinks the police should know), and 2) she was near Megan’s house at the time of her disappearance (she got blackout drunk and decided it was a good idea to pay Tom and Anna a visit). Rachel, of course, is desperate to feel needed and important (the police rightly assume she’s just a “rubbernecker”), so she inserts herself in the investigation as much as possible (“[I]t’s because I feel like I’m part of this mystery, I’m connected.”). She reads all the information she can about the case, she goes to meet Megan’s husband, she makes an appointment with Megan’s shrink.
It’s a thriller, so, as expected, it is fast-paced and moderately engaging. And, at least from the beginning, it’s not entirely predictable.
But do these positives balance out the fact that the story revolves around a bunch of awful human beings? Absolutely not.
- an Indie Next List pick for January 2015
- a LibraryReads List selection for January 2015
Who should read it: If you are a fan of Gone Girl, then, chances are, you will enjoy this book, too. It has the same mindless, page-turning quality about it. The ending isn’t quite as implausible and out there as Gone Girl, but it certainly stretches belief.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004 winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize; 2005 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award; 2005 winner of the Branford Boase Award)
- The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack (an Indie Next List pick for May 2015)