The Girl on the Train.
By Paula Hawkins.
Last summer, absolutely everyone was talking about ‘The Girl on the Train.’ The novel that seemed to come from nowhere described as a debut has surprised the book selling world like an un-scheduled train speeding along with no stop signal in sight. The writer, Sophie Hawkins has been a journalist for fifteen years and has churned out a couple of books under the pen name Amy Silvers. These were supposed to be frothy feel good romps, but one suspects from reading Girl on the Train, they probably didn’t feel so good to Hawkins.
Here, we see the assured writer who has found her genre, embraced it and made it her own. It has been a surprise success, written as Hawkins has said out of desperation. It was a last chance to ‘make it,’ in the publishing world.
Hawkins has succeeded on a grand scale. She has made it. Certainly in terms of sales which will please publishers, agents and booksellers across the globe. The novel, in hardback and eBook formats hit the top spot of the New York Times Bestseller lists. On reading the novel, one has to say she has truly made it, in the sense that truly counts for any writer worth their salt. Hawkins has churned out, not just a nice littler earner, but also a stylish thriller that is well written and crosses the divide easily between the genre thriller and thoroughly decent fiction.
The story is told from three narrative viewpoints. All of them at best shaky and worst, we wonder about their reliability even for the characters themselves, which of course only adds to the building suspense for the reader. It is a stylish way to tell a tale, recently used by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl and the fabulous Tana French across a range of her books. The sophisticated style not only marks out this novel from the plethora of whodunits and genre novels, but it also adds to the tension. At times, the reader feels the claustrophobia of London, of the summer hot train carriage, of the one rented room, so acutely that you have to breath deep and look to the sky. Tightly drawn characters, simple observations and those precarious narrators egg this on so we are afraid to pin our hopes and sometimes unsure of where to pin them.
The ‘hook’, like so many brilliant stories is simple, every day and slow cooking. There is a sense of menace in suburbia, and like the guards in Hamlet’s Denmark, we can’t figure out where this danger lies. Each of the protagonists are acutely trapped in lives they consider of their own making. The evolving story emancipates them from the mundane but dangerous jailor among them. The characters are so well conceived, you probably know a number of them already – but hopefully not all! If we feel that some are shadowy to begin with, we learn that all sorts of people and sometimes-even monsters love to live in the shadows – and sometimes they live in suburbia, which is much more unsettling.
This is a thoughtfully put together, insightful study of what it is to be married to someone you never really knew. It is a mystery thriller, stylish and brutal, but too absorbing to be overlooked. Now, I have to confess, that about a hundred pages in, I left it down for a week, my intentions unclear, but I delved headlong into something else. It drew me back though, and I’m glad I returned to it. Girl on the Train proved a satisfying read with a thorough pulling together of all the loose strings and if endings were not always happy, they were certainly just and satisfying. We are left with hope for the protagonist we wanted to root for all along.
Sophie Hawkins has another book under contract. It is a psychological thriller with siblings at its centre – and I for one am already looking forward to it!