Think on ink — “The Girl on the Train”
Caelin Miltko | Wednesday, January 28, 2015
After reading “Gone Girl,” I hardly had any desire to return to that world. Amy frightened me; Nick angered me. Gillian Flynn could write, I could respect that and I didn’t need to know anymore.
For some reason, this reaction didn’t stop me from seeing the movie when it came to Notre Dame last week. I went and once again discovered the complicated machinations of Amy and Nick’s relationship. I was still disturbed, but instead of shying away from the emotions, I wanted to delve into this type of storyline further. As much as I hated her, I wanted more Amy.
It was with this frame of mind I picked up Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train.” It had been hailed as the new “Gone Girl” (along with Harriet Lane’s “Her”) and I was curious. Was it possible that Hawkins could create the same sense of disturbed horror and grudging respect I felt upon finishing “Gone Girl?”
It should be said that expecting a novel to give you this type of feeling sets itself up for failure — I immediately distrusted every character that was introduced and was constantly waiting for one of them to reveal themselves as the crazed psychopath. It takes away the sense of real surprise and betrayal I felt upon reading Amy Elliott Dunne’s confession the first time.
Still, if I step away from Gillian Flynn comparisons, Hawkins’ novel is quite good. She’s not nearly as good as Flynn at probing the sociopathic tendencies of the “bad guy,” but her characters have other strengths. They aren’t likable, but they are human.
Rachel, the so-called “girl on the train,” is a struggling alcoholic whose only joy in life seems to be creating a perfect marriage and life for a couple she sees every day on her way into London. As a narrator, she is frustrating because of her inability to recall everything accurately (or at all) — the reader, at times, wants to reach in and shake her until she puts down the wine. Still, she’s likable. Hawkins gives you what Flynn denies — someone to root for.
The other two narrators, Megan and Anna, are less developed. Their story lines are almost peripheral, except for the moments when they cross paths with Rachel. Megan is particularly frustrating, prone to continually talking about a vague “him” whose identity seems as though it could shift throughout the novel. It’s necessary, yes, for Hawkins’ eventual conclusion, but it remains one of her weakest attempts at creating tension.
Anna, on the other hand, seems entirely unnecessary. Her point of view rarely serves to move the story along, and I think the book would have been stronger had this aspect either been developed more or dropped entirely. As they stand, her chapters vacillate between providing almost interesting insight into a character who could be easily demonized and simply distracting from the main storyline.
Hawkins’ strong point lies in Rachel’s voice. She is the heart of the novel, and her chapters and her struggles are what motivate the reader to continue on. At times, even the main driving plot of the novel seems like it could be dropped if only Rachel would move on with her life and finally let go of the alcohol.
In the end, I’m not quite sure “The Girl on the Train” lives up to its hype as the new “Gone Girl.” But I’m also not sure it should — to me, the name seems like a bit of a misnomer. Hawkins isn’t trying to be Gillian Flynn, and none of her female voices are meant to be Amy. Her aim is quite different, and I think I would have enjoyed the book better had I remembered that from the beginning.