Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Big Reads: The Girl On The Train

I read The Girl on the Train earlier this year and hadn't planned to feature it here on Big Reads Little Reads. BUT I was doing some research for a forthcoming post about literary podcasts and listened to an episode from Slate's Audio Book Club about this novel.  It reminded me about how much I didn't love The Girl on the Train.

A little warning about this post: I'm going to spoil the mess out of the novel. So if you haven't read it and would like to avoid spoilers before doing so, stop reading now. You get the gist of my feelings about it above - if you read on, there will be spoilers.

So, The Girl on the Train:
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Like I said above, I didn't LOVE The Girl on the Train. And normally I wouldn't even write about a book I didn't enjoy because there are so many wonderful books out there that we can talk about.  But this novel blew up so quickly and I have some mixed feeling about it, so here's my take:

There were some good things about this book.

  • It was very suspenseful.
  • It was a quick read.
  • I had no clue who dunnit until very late in the book.  That made the twist extra surprising.
But there we're some not so great things too.

The novel features three narrative voices - Rachel, Megan, and Anna. They were all extremely unlikable. In fact, I don't think there was a single likable character in the entire book, except maybe Rachel's roommate. Rachel was, by far, the worst for me. She's the main narrative voice and get something like half the pages to tell her story, but here's the thing: she's a drunk and she's pretty pathetic. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of alcoholism, abuse, and the grief that comes along with infertility, but I spent most of the book wanting to shake her and yell, "WAKE THE F@*K UP!!" Her roommate is so good to her and tries to help her for so long, but she's so wrapped up in her ex-husband, her addiction, and her inability to have children that she is unable to get her life together.

Megan is the second most prominent narrative voice, and, to me, she seemed completely bonkers. Again, I'm sure this is completely intentional, and we learn later in the novel about the death of her daughter, and how that has messed her up. But until we learn that, I spend most of her perspective thinking, "What the heck are you doing?"

Anna has the smallest narrative voice, and for most of the novel she's just nothing.  Blank and bland and boring.  Unlucky enough to have married someone with a crazy ex (Rachel.) Then we find out that she started seeing Tom when he and Rachel were still married, and she knew he was married. That's a little bit of a hot button issue with me, so this is more than enough to make me dislike her. Plus, as we read more from her perspective, we find that she's kind of crazy too.

These three women are almost interchangeable. Rachel was married to Tom, who had an affair with Anna, who he then marries after he divorces Rachel. Then, while he's married to Anna, he has an affair with Megan. They are all also defined by motherhood. Rachel is defined by her inability to have children.  Megan is defined by the child she lost. Anna is defined by the daughter she has now, which is all she ever wanted. I felt that this was interesting - also interesting that none of these three women are employed.

And then there's Tom. The big connection between these three women. The craziest of the crazies. I don't have a lot of feelings about Tom. He was very much in the background for most of the novel, so I never really suspected him. So that surprised me when Rachel had that frightened response to the golf club - and started to remember how abusive he was when she was black out drunk. 

You know who I did suspect? The red haired man from the train.  All Rachel can remember from the night Megan goes missing is stumbling down the stairs at the train station with a red haired man (and a bloody head wound.) When she runs into him again on the train at a later date, I though for sure he had something to do with it.  But he didn't.  He was nothing. He was a red herring.  A red haired red herring. (I didn't pick up on this AT ALL. When they talked about it on Slate's Audio Book Club - I laughed out loud.)

So, final thoughts - I feel like I should have some sympathy for these women, but I just don't. I have a hard time reading novels with no one to root for. And that's what this was.

Would I recommend it? Sure? (Heavy emphasis on the question mark.) It was an enjoyable enough read. It was suspenseful; a real page turner. If you want to see what all the hype is about, the go ahead and read it. I am excited for the movie though.

Have you read this book? Did you love it or hate it or somewhere in between?

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