The Girl on the Train * Paula Hawkins

I absolutely loved this book. I saw the movie years ago and it was always on my “To Read” list since but as things go, I can never pick up “hyped” books without feeling some sort of disappointment. This was the exception.

The three women in the book are inter-connected by houses that look alike, by a train line, by their marriages and by their men and love or hate of children.
The book should really have been called “The Drunk Ex on the Train”. Ever since I read Doctor Sleep by Stephen King I loved how authors can either make you sympathise or hate the protagonists who spend their lives in a drunken stupor.

Meet Rachel.

The Drunk Ex. The harassing, always pining for her lost husband, pitiful woman who is so consumed by the loss of her marriage she cannot see the way out of the bottom of the bottle.

Her friend is letting her rent a room in her house – despite finding bottles and sometimes vomit on the stairs. Rachel didn’t tell her she was fired months ago for losing a client. Every morning she still commutes to London where she spends her “free” hours going around parks and drinking gin and tonic. In the evening she commutes back.

Rachel is a dreamy drunk. She likes to fantasise about other people that she sees, think about their perfect lives and cry in shame at what her own has become. She has reasons to be sad. She’s been unable to conceive and her barreness has brought the bottle forward as a coping mechanism which in turn drove her husband away. This and the domestic violence. He accused her on multiple occasions of losing her memory after being drunk and attacking him with golf clubs and denting walls and brusing him.

Soon after he demands a divorce and buys her out of their marital home only to soon move in with (unbeknownst to Rachel) pregnant mistress, Anna.

“Rachel, it’s Anna.” Long pause. “I need to talk to you about the phone calls.” Another long pause—she’s talking to me and doing something else, multitasking, the way busy wives and mothers do, tidying up, loading the washing machine. “Look, I know you’re having a tough time,” she says, as though she has nothing to do with my pain, “but you can’t call us at night all the time.” Her tone is clipped, irritable. “It’s bad enough that you wake us when you call, but you wake Evie, too, and that’s just not acceptable. We’re struggling to get her tosleep through at the moment.” We’re struggling to get her to sleep through. We. Us. Our little family.
With our problems and our routines. Fucking bitch.

She’s a cuckoo, laying her egg in my nest. She has taken everything from me. She has taken everything and now she calls me to tell me that my distress is inconvenient for her?

I finish the second can and make a start on the third. The blissful rush of alcohol hitting my bloodstream lasts only a few minutes, and then I feel sick. I’m going too fast, even for me, I need to slowdown; if I don’t slow down something bad is going to happen. I’m going to do something I will regret.
I’m going to call her back, I’m going to tell her I don’t care about her and I don’t care about her family and I don’t care if her child never gets a goodnight’s sleep for the rest of its life. I’m going to tell her that the line he used with her—don’t expect me to be sane—he used it with me, too, when we were first together; he wrote it in a letter to me, declaring his undying passion. It’s not even his line: he stole it from Henry Miller. Everything she has is second hand.
I want to know how that makes her feel. I want to call her back and ask her, What does it feel like, Anna, to live in my house, surrounded by the furniture I bought, to sleep in the bed that I shared with him for years, to feed your child at the kitchen table he fucked me on?
I still find it extraordinary that they chose to stay there, in that house, in my house. I couldn’t believe it when he told me. I loved that house. I was the one who insisted we buy it, despite its location. I liked being down there on the tracks, I liked watching the trains go by, I enjoyed the sound of them, not the scream of an inner-city express but the old-fashioned trundling of ancient rolling stock.
Tom told me, “It won’t always be like this, they’ll eventually upgrade the line and then it will be fast trains screaming past,” but I couldn’t believe it would ever actually happen. I would have stayed there, I would have bought him out if I’d had the money. I didn’t, though, and we couldn’t find a buyer at a decent price when we divorced, so instead he said he’d buy me out and stay on until he got the right price for it. But he never found the right buyer, instead he moved her in, and she loved the house like I did, and they decided to stay. She must be very secure in herself, I suppose, in them, for it not to bother her, to walk where another woman has walked before.

She obviously doesn’t think of me as a threat. I think about Ted Hughes, moving Assia Wevill into the home he’d shared with Plath, of her wearing Sylvia’s clothes, brushing her hair with the same brush. I want to ring Anna up and remind her that Assia ended up with her head in the oven, just like Sylvia did.

Rachel finds solace in watching a couple living two doors down from her old place having the life she’d always wanted. She’s young, sexy and petite. He’s handsome, tall and loves her like no-one else. They have coffee on the porch in the mornings and kiss before he goes to work.

Meet Anna.

She knew Tom was married and that his marriage was terrible. She felt ashamed on the surface that she was dating a married man, meeting him in a house that was empty to have steamy sexual encounters. In the depths of her soul, she wanted him, wanted to feel desired and loved enough that she would convince a married guy to be hers and hers alone.

I miss work, but I also miss what work meant tome in my last year of gainful employment, when I met Tom. I miss being a mistress.
I enjoyed it. I loved it, in fact. I never felt guilty. I pretended I did. I had to, with my married girlfriends, the ones who live in terror of the pert au pair or the pretty, funny girl in the office who can talk about football and spends half her life in the gym. I had to tell them that of course I felt terrible about it, of course I felt bad for his wife, I never meant for any of this to happen, we fell in love, what could we do?

The truth is, I never felt bad for Rachel, even before I found out about her drinking and how difficult she was, how she was making his life a misery. She just wasn’t real to me, and anyway, I was enjoying myself too much. Being the other woman is a huge turn-on, there’s no point denying it: you’re the one he can’t help but betray his wife for, even though he loves her. That’s just how irresistible you are.

When she falls pregnant, Tom steps up, leaving his abusive ex wife and takes her under his roof, marrying her and becoming the perfect father to their little daughter.

But there’s always a black cloud. She’s in their previous marital home, still seeing his ex’s things everywhere but choosing to stay and make her own print on the property. The drunken calls from Rachel keep coming and when Rachel is caught in the house trying to get out with the baby in her arms, Anna loses it and wants Tom to handle her ex or she’ll call the police.

Tom is always placating her, telling her all she needs to hear and she never questions him. He’s hers now, won fair and square in the game of love so she only needs to get rid of the dark drunk cloud which is named Rachel for her perfect life to be absolutely perfect.

She even hires a nanny for a while but they can’t get along well and she feels happy when she quits to pursue other career interests.

And then the paranoia came, that feeling I’ve had almost all the time I’ve lived in this house, of being watched. At first, I used to put it down to the trains.
All those faceless bodies staring out of the windows, staring right across at us, it gave me the creeps. It was one of the many reasons why I didn’t want to move in here in the first place, but Tom wouldn’t leave. He said we’d lose money on the sale.
At first the trains, and then Rachel. Rachel watching us, turning up on the street, calling us up all the time. And then even Megan, when she was herewith Evie: I always felt she had half an eye on me, as though she were assessing me, assessing my parenting, judging me for not being able to cope on my own. Ridiculous, I know. Then I think about that day when Rachel came to the house and took Evie, and my whole body goes cold and I think, I’m not being ridiculous at all.


Met Meghan

Her gallery shut down and she found herself bored as the housewife of a rich self-employed IT contractor. She feels trapped and watched as her jealous and controlling husband, Scott, keeps a close eye on her due to her previous transgressions. She gets a job as a nanny for Tom and Anna but it doesn’t last long as she doesn’t like babies and Scott keeps pushing for one of their own.

Just let me go. Let me go. Let me breathe.
So I can’t sleep, and I’m angry. I feel as though we’re having a fight already, even though the fight’s only in my imagination.
And in my head, thoughts go round and round and round.
I feel like I’m suffocating.
When did this house become so bloody small?
When did my life become so boring? Is this really what I wanted? I can’t remember. All I know is that a few months ago I was feeling better, and now I can’t think and I can’t sleep and I can’t draw and the urge to run is becoming overwhelming. At night when I lie awake I can hear it, quiet but unrelenting, undeniable: a whisper in my head, Slip away. When I close my eyes, my head is filled with images of past and future lives, the things I dreamed I wanted, the things I had and threw away. I can’t get comfortable, because every way I turn I run into dead ends: the closed gallery, the houses on this road, the stifling attentions of the tedious Pilates women, the track at the end of the garden with its trains, always taking someone else to somewhere else, reminding me over and over and over, a dozen times a day, that I’m staying put.
I feel as though I’m going mad.
And yet just a few months ago, I was feeling better, I was getting better. I was fine. I was sleeping. I didn’t live in fear of the nightmares. I could breathe.
Yes, I still wanted to run away. Sometimes. But not every day.

She starts therapy and there is where she meets Abdul, a brown and handsome man who becomes her new crush and she does everything she can to seduce him.

All starts going wrong when Rachel, from her small snippets on the train, sees Meghan kissing another man.

What follows is a suspenseful thriller which brings forward not just Meghan’s dead body but a net of entanglements between four people. Scott, the cuckooed husband, Tom and Anna, the harassed couple and Rachel – the ex who does not know how to help Scott without telling him she’d only been snooping in his life.

They each have something to protect and are trying desperately to get their old lives back – from before this mess of a woman, in her stumbling incoherent rambles exposes the truth about what happened to Meghan.

[imdb id=”tt3631112″]

I loved this book because the narrator is completely unreliable. Her memory has black spots. Hypnosis cannot bring it back. She focuses on the wrong facts and in her mind is trying to prove Scott innocent and Abdul, the dark man she saw kissing Meghan, as the culprit – a jealous lover who would rather kill his beloved than share her with her ex.

Rachel is so terrible at remembering things that she completely forgot she was the one beaten and abused during her marriage with Tom, that she was gaslit and lied to on a daily basis. Tom is an absolute villain but only revealed to be so in the last 2-3% of the book. Until then, there were some clues that something was odd with him – like his refusal to sell the house by the train tracks, him telling his new bride that his family hates her and never want to meet her because she stole him from Rachel and always going out with his friends for drinks (friends she hasn’t met or knows about). Anna figures out that Tom is cheating on her when he goes to the gym but leaves his gym bag at home and finds a second phone in the bag.

The big reveal is who exactly Tom was cheating with and how Meghan really disappeared.

All in all, a good book and I can’t wait to see what else this author brings out.

PS, If you like tales of triangles, read:

The Woman Before Me * Ruth Dugdall Book Review

Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood


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