“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins made it on my list for Santa this year, but not for reasons a sane person might suspect. Yes, the book will be made into a movie coming out in October, starring Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux. Yes, critics have hailed the book the next suspense-thriller, comparing it to “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn — which had a plot that is, in my opinion, too outlandish to be believable. Yes, Hawkins, who is a journalist by trade, wrote an unpredictable, captivating story for her debut into the genre.
But none of those reasons were good enough. I wanted to find this novel under my Christmas tree because of the mild controversy behind its title. You see, there is another psychological thriller with a strikingly similar name, but it was written two years ago, has a different author, and will not be made into a movie anytime soon. Yet, so many people from the United Kingdom and Australia got the pair confused that they pushed the look-alike to the top of Amazon Best Selling charts, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
So, I had to find out myself the cause of all the ruckus with the newly-released novel about a girl and a train.
From her seat on the train, Rachel Watson studies the house on a street where she once lived with her ex-husband. Her daily ritual becomes an obsession as soon as she creates fake names and lives for the couple occupying the home. She calls them Jess and Jason, a “perfect, golden couple.” Their real names are Megan and Scott.
When Megan goes missing, Rachel implants herself into Scott’s life to try to solve the crime.
All the while, the novel is tempered with Rachel’s drinking problem, which is made apparent early in the novel when she opens up soda cans of gin on her commute home from work or when she consumes multiple bottles of wine in an evening. Her drinking problem is off-putting and causes great turmoil in her life, but for me, it served to make her an imperfect yet precious focus of the story. At times reading the book, I asked myself whether I pitied Rachel because of her alcoholism or felt sincere sympathy toward her as if she were a wounded animal.
Rachel has to learn to deal with embarrassment, the police and her past in a novel that’s seemingly only about a girl’s vantage point from a train.
Now, I don’t always buy my books based on controversy, but when I do, I’m not led astray.