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“The Girl on the Train” Forces Readers to See Roles Differently

by Kaitlin Lyle

Subsequent to the release of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” in 2012, the suspense surrounding the lives of deceptive men and women has frequently surfaced as the subject of this decade’s literature. In reading Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller, “The Girl on the Train,” the familiar phrase, “everything is not what it seems” comes prominently into play. In terms of the novel’s countless moments of treachery, the author slyly coaxes her reader into considering just how sincerely they can trust their perceptions of the people closest to them.

Following two mysterious snippets that give a glimpse of the events to come, “The Girl on the Train” begins as our protagonist, Rachel Watson, takes the 8.04 commuter train into London. By reading her entries, the reader learns that Rachel’s journey on the 8.04 contributes to a daily routine that distracts her from the torments of her reality. Embittered by her failed marriage, Rachel’s self-destructive alcoholism is fueled on a regular basis by her inability to move on.

As a way of numbing the pain of her life’s disappointments, Rachel takes the train to conform to the crowd and exude normalcy. Along her daily journeys, the train waits at a signal where Rachel can peer into the back gardens of 15 Blenheim Road. Living in the house is a young couple and Watson, in her wistful longing for happiness, imagines their lives as filled to the brim with marital bliss. Over time, she assigns the couple names – Jess and Jason – and conjures up imaginary details until she feels part of their perfected lives. However, the daily doses of happiness that Rachel receives in living vicariously through these daydreams are abruptly shattered when she catches her beloved “Jess” kissing another man. An insurmountable fury wells within her, yet the shock that Rachel discerns from this betrayal proves to be inconsiderable in comparison to the tremors that surface when “Jess” is reported missing three days later.

Behind the disclosure of the report, the reader learns that the missing woman, “Jess,” is a former gallery manager named Megan Hipwell who harbors a shady past as a “mistress of self-reinvention.” With each entry that frames Megan’s perspective, it becomes apparent that Rachel’s imaginings were nowhere near the reality of Megan’s circumstances.

Within tangled webs of deception, Hawkins conveys intricate story lines so that each incident can be pinpointed in memory, turning her readers into critical detectives. Breaking from the traditional two narratives, the plot is told through the perspectives, both past and present, of the story’s heroines: Rachel, Megan and Anna. As the plot thickens, the three narrators share the same haunting realization that the lives they lead are far from how they appear to be. Though unaware of it at the time, each of them made a series of wrong decisions that quietly accumulate as their individual entries begin to coincide with one another.

In analyzing this particular mystery, the reader is not only placed in the role of bystander to the characters’ actions but also that of investigator as they track each clue that yields and contrasts to the many stories afoot. Characters that we initially dismiss are brought into a severe line of questioning and characters that we originally sympathize with ultimately lead us to a horrific side of their personalities.

DreamWorks Pictures recently released the first trailer of the novel’s upcoming film adaptation, which has been set to release on October 7 and will star Emily Blunt in the role of Rachel Watson.