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Psychological thriller set in London / The Home Counties (“the village-on-the-edge-of-London”)

29th March 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, thriller set in London and The Home Counties.

A hugely hyped thriller, so what is it that makes it so suspenseful?

IMG_0301Rachel is a commuter travelling into Euston, London, from the Northwestern Home Counties, who idles away her time on the train into London by peering into the lives of others in the houses abutting the railway lines. The serried ranks of urban housing certainly feed her fertile imagination, notwithstanding that one of the houses she passes everyday is the house in which she lived with her former husband Tom. He has moved Anna in, and together they now have a daughter, Evie. It is a daily reminder to Rachel of the relationship she has lost. Five houses down from her earlier home, in the very same row on Blenheim Street, she regularly observes a couple interacting in their garden, and she personalises them by inventing names for them, Jess and Jason (in actual fact Megan and Scott Hipwell).

But Rachel has alcohol problems, and although she continues the commute into and out of London, she no longer has a job to go to. She was fired for being drunk. But one day she sees Jess being caressed by someone in the garden who isn’t Jason, and shortly thereafter, Jess goes missing. Rachel is desperate to get involved in the search for the missing woman, at last she has a mission, at last she can be of some use to someone – Tom planted the notion with her that she is fat, a drunkard and pretty useless and at some level she believes that. But because of these alcohol excesses she seems to be a rather unreliable witness and finds herself sidelined by most of the people who are at the centre of this drama. However, the more she is rejected, the more she is driven to insinuate herself into the vagaries of the investigation. She knows what she saw….

It is a gripping read and generally deserving of the fulsome praise. The short sentences and short chapters often feel clipped, which on the one hand can feel limiting, but on the other mirrors the stop/start of a typical commuter train’s progress into a congested London station. The train compartments are hot, they are steamy when it rains, there is little standing room… it is life writ large of the London-bound commuter.

The main female players all essentially come from a similar mould, they all  seem to be (as Anna says of Megan) “absent and self-involved“, and not distinctively fleshed out to really stand out as individuals.  They all have the capacity to dissociate from their lives, which then ripples back to the reader, it can be hard to connect with the characters, but then a person with alcohol problems struggles to connect with the world around them… wheels within wheels.

I am not overly keen on endings where characters gather together to reflect on what has been going on and then drop the final clues into place to make a cohesive ending. This book comes with a warning if you are going to read it on a train! Enjoy!

Tina for the TripFiction team

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