This month our selection is The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. It’s a relatively short, fast, light read, just right for the end of summer. However, it’s also layered and complex in terms of it’s clever construction and it’s treatment of themes including alcoholism, memory, and the ways we deceive others and ourselves.
The Girl on the Train was a huge bestseller, and a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt will be released on October 7, 2016. NPR raved about it, saying:
But what really makes The Girl on the Train such a gripping novel is Hawkins’ remarkable understanding of the limits of human knowledge, and the degree to which memory and imagination can become confused. Reflecting on her fellow passengers on her daily train ride to and from London, Rachel thinks, “I recognize them and they probably recognize me. I don’t know whether they see me, though, for what I really am.” They don’t, of course, and they can’t. It’s hard enough — maybe impossible — for a person even to see herself for what she really is.
The New York Times praised the book for its skillful manipulation of the reader, saying:
Ms. Hawkins keeps all these fibs, threats and innuendoes swirling through her book, to the point where they frighten and undermine each of her characters. None of them really know which of the others can be trusted or believed. And although there’s a lot of Hitchcock to the book’s diabolical plotting, there’s also a strong element of “Gaslight,” the classic story in which a man tries to convince his wife that she is going mad. All three women in the book are candidates for this treatment, and Ms. Hawkins puts it to very good use.
The reader is ready for some gaslighting, too. So Ms. Hawkins scrambles the timing of scenes, with Megan gone in one chapter and then present in the next. She also shifts well among her narrators’ points of view to keep the reader on edge, and only as the book progresses do these different perspectives begin to dovetail. Scrambling a story is easy, but it’s done here to tight, suspenseful effect. The book does have a lot of moving parts, and Ms. Hawkins takes longer than necessary to get them started. The second part of the story is much tighter and more suspenseful.
Even my favorite study guide, schmoop.com, got in on the action with an excellent analysis of the book – so if you want some extra things to consider, or a guide through the sometimes confusing events, check it out.
We will be meeting in person to discuss The Girl on the Train at Arden Dimick Library, on Saturday August 27, 2016, at 10:30AM. Happy reading!