Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

[no podcast this week]


Here’s my book review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
I don’t often review recent releases. But there was such a buzz about The Girl on the Train, I couldn’t help myself. Especially since, after I’d downloaded the ebook sample, that Buy Now button was burning a hole in my digital wallet.
(The book has been out for months, so maybe, given the nanosecond pace of social media, it’s a classic by now?)
Yes, I was engrossed. But before you rush out to the e-store, be warned.
Right off, this is a book for and about women. The two male main characters – both thirty-something husbands – are strapping hunks of man-flesh. They exude charm and flash winning smiles. And they are both abusers. Several walk-on male characters are nicer, sort of metrosexual candidates. But one has a drug habit, another is a drunk, and the third is a spineless shrink.
The wives and ex-wives are smart but vulnerable, emotional sponges thirsty for guy-sweat. They spend a lot of their emotional energy in cat-fights with each other.
Okay, here’s the gist of it. The Girl on the Train is a chilling psychological drama centered – not on a love triangle, but a pentagon – or is it a hexagon? Anyway, the permutations and combinations don’t quite include the entire neighborhood.
Main character Rachel is recently divorced from Tom, who seems like a nice guy who just couldn’t put up with her drinking habit. (She had her reasons.) He’s now married to Anna and they have a new baby. The couple live in a the same bungalow where Tom and Rachel once thought they were happy. A few doors down, Scott and Megan seem like childless lovebirds. Megan occasionally babysits for Anna.
Although it’s been a while since the breakup, Rachel can’t help spying on her old house from the commuter train she takes to work in London every day. She occasionally catches sight of Megan and Scott lounging on the porch of their cookie-cutter cottage. She doesn’t know them well, but she develops a fantasy about their perfect relationship. It’s the relationship Rachel thought she had with Tom, a love now presumably lost.
It turns out that Rachel is more than casually curious about Tom and Anna. Rachel is a stalker. She phones him at all hours, she leaves notes at the house, and she wanders the neighborhood as she stares at the front door.
One night when she’s there, neighbor Megan goes missing.
A problem is – and it’s huge – when Rachel has been drinking she’s prone to mental blackouts. There are whole chunks of time – from minutes to hours – for which she has no memory. So combined with her guilt and self-loathing over her failed marriage, Rachel begins to wonder whether she’s been bad. Maybe really, really bad?
Like, maybe, did she somehow hurt perfect-housewife Megan? And what happened to Megan, anyway? Did she run off with a lover, or will they find her body in a ditch?
That’s as far as I’ll go. No more spoilers. But I’m just priming the pump. This is a big book, and, by turns, Rachel, Anna, and Megan tell their first-person stories.
Debut novelist Paula Hawkins knows her craft. At its basis, The Girl on the Train is an ingeniously twisted  mystery. It’s a woman-jeopardy plot with multiple victims. But, be warned, there are occasional bouts of intense domestic violence.
You might wonder whether this bestseller will be a movie, and apparently it will. DreamWorks has it in pre-production with Tate Taylor (The Help) to direct. Emily Blunt has been cast in the title role of Rachel. In the book she’s described as pudgy and somewhat homely. I guess Hollywood (UK office?) thought that was a bad idea. I doubt if the svelte Ms. Blunt will be donning a fat-suit or actually putting on weight for this role. Perhaps a touch less makeup, dear?
As I say, this is a big book, and what probably won’t make it to script or screen are Rachel’s agonizing internal monologues.
But what you will see, I can predict, is every one of those wife-battering fights.
Even more titillating to movie audiences than a good wartime firefight with semiautomatic weapons is to see some sweaty guy slapping his hot babe around.


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