The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
1 out of 5 stars
Caution. There might be some ranting ahead.
This has frequently been called the next Gone Girl. And yes, that is to some extend why I wanted to read this. I wanted something suspenseful; an unreliable narrator; and lots of “what the hell?!”- moments. Out of these three things I got one – an unreliable narrator. But one written so clumsily and shallow that I was annoyed, not intrigued, by her.
The plot’s mystery falls flat because it is done in such a heavy-handed way. The shift between narrative points of view and the two timelines seem like an artificial way of keeping the reader in the dark. The alcohol-induced blackouts of the main character just add to that feeling. I constantly thought “oh, how convenient that she does not remember that” and “oh, how convenient she can recall a tiny detail now”. It was simply clumsy and trite.
However, the worst thing about Rachel, the protagonist and main narrator, weren’t the clichés about alcoholism and divorced women. These aspects annoyed me to no end but the absolute worst thing about Rachel and the two other female narrators was how pathetic they were. Throughout the book I got the feeling that Paula Hawkins must hate women; hate them with a passion. Women in this novel are portrayed as unstable (going on batshit crazy), weak, dependent (on men), and insecure. Every single woman mentioned defines her personality in relation to a man. They doubt themselves, their capabilities and decisions. The men, in contrast, are all mysterious but strong and sure of themselves. They are there to give definition and meaning to their wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and sons. Even those women on the side-lines of the plot are only defined by their relationships to men.
For instance, Rachel’s mother; she is only mentioned two or three times and the one time she actually gets a few lines is when she explains how she’s not able to help her daughter at the moment because she has a new “friend” and she doesn’t want to scare him off like that! Seriously? Also, Rachel’s roommate is supposed to be the one thinking clearly; she tries to keep Rachel sober and wants her to go to AA meetings, get a grip on life, and so on. Still, even the supposedly reasonable character is defined by her boyfriend. When she’s not home she is with him and when he is out of town for some reason she sits at home waiting for him. And these are only the minor female characters in this novel.
Rachel, Anna, and Megan are all pathetic in their very own way. They pine about the men that leave or reject them; they doubt their life decisions and still won’t change anything in order not to upset their men. And every single thought they have is about how their decisions or actions might affect their husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, or lovers.
I know I’m ranting a bit here, but this really really annoyed me. I also know what Hawkins was trying to do. She wanted to show the dark side of domestic life – just like Gone Girl did. But in my opinion she has utterly failed to do so.