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I am a huge fan of mystery novels. I love the fast paced nature of them, the suspense, and well, the mystery. Mystery and thriller novels get a bad rap sometimes as being “pulp.” Now, it’s true there are a lot of mystery novels that are poorly written, but I think most get deemed un-serious literature based on the fact that mystery and thriller novels tend to cut out a lot of exposition and filler information and just get to the action.
Enter the literary thriller, which takes everything people love about literary fiction and smashes it together with a fast-paced thriller novel. The most popular recently has been Gone Girl, and this novel, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Many people have actually been comparing the two novels, but I’m not sure that is a really fair comparison. The Girl on the Train takes place in 2013 and is told from the perspective of three women, all of whom are extremely flawed, unreliable narrators. There is Rachel, who is the girl on the train. She is an unemployed alcoholic, still reeling from a divorce that happened a couple of years prior. Every day, to keep up the pretense that she still has a job, she takes the train in to London, which takes her past her former house, where she sees her ex-husband, his new wife Anna, and their baby daughter. It also takes her past the home of Jess and Jason, a couple she doesn’t know, but names and imagines a happy life for.
As the reader, we know that Jess and Jason aren’t happy, and aren’t Jess and Jason. They are Megan and Scott. Megan narrates several of the chapters from the past, and much of the novel centers around her disappearance, and the fact that Rachel can’t remember exactly what happened that night, but that she was possibly outside of Megan’s home that night. The other chapters are told from the perspective of Anna, who married Rachel’s ex-husband and who loathes Rachel entirely. All three women have things to hide, things to be ashamed of, and it’s clear early on that all three aren’t exactly trustworthy and may be bending their sides of the story. You never know who to trust, and I think that is one of the great successes of the novel. Hearing the story from several perspectives keeps you guessing up until the end.
The novel does a great job of keeping the suspense high, and I honestly hadn’t guessed who was responsible for Megan’s disappearance and death until close to the end, which for me is the mark of a good thriller. Nothing ruins a mystery faster than knowing who did it within the first one hundred pages. That said, at times I did find the book to be dragging along, particularly at the beginning. Once Megan disappears and the real meat of the story gets set in motion, the pages really fly by and go quickly. Would I say that this is as good as Gone Girl? No, but it is a good read nonetheless, especially if you enjoy thrillers.