Sometimes, while wandering about in the evening, or in my travels on the road, I’ll briefly look through the lighted windows of the houses I go by. There’s no sinister intent on my part, but heir umber-lit interiors look warm and inviting and I briefly imagine that the lives lived within those homes are safer, warmer, cozier, happier than my bumpy, shaky existence. There, I think, somewhere inside, there lies security. There is love. You may do this yourself on your various journeys.
The Girl on the Train, an interesting offbeat new psychological suspense novel by Paula Hawkins, opens near this same point. Rachel, the main narrator, an Englishwoman in her thirties, is a daily London commuter whose train pauses at the same point every weekday morning, behind a row of cheerful, neatly built faux-Victorian duplexes. Restless, feckless and miserable, Rachel speculates on the lives of the dwellers. One house in particular draws her attention, in part because of the couple she sees lounging happily on its makeshift rear porch: “They are the perfect, golden couple.”
Rachel even makes up names and imagines a fairy tale love story for them. She can’t help herself. She can’t stop feverishly projecting her own desperate need for happiness onto them. Then, after she witnesses a curious incident on that very spot that cracks her cozy fantasy, she decides, at great risk, to take action to save the world she’s created in her mind.
Rachel is an unreliable first-person narrator and the peculiar character of her condition is woven with the mystery wending its way alongside the novel’s nicely turned serpentine plot. We also meet two other first-person narrators, two women with similar backgrounds: Megan, the woman on the back porch; and Anna, the Other Woman who stole Rachel’s ex-husband—and happiness--away. These women have their own delusions. How these three threads intertwine until they’re knotted together by murder is the core of the book.
Engaging as I found The Girl on the Train at first, though, the narrative flattens after a while. Paula Hawkins is a good writer in the sleek modern style. But, oddly, each of the three women tell their stories in the exact same voice: the same cadences, sentence structures and choice of words. The three seem interchangeable. Add to this their similar middle-class backgrounds and I found myself wandering between confusion and monotony. The novel became hard to stay with. The larger mystery for me was not who done what to whom and why (and the consequences), but why the author committed a seemingly obvious error and one that seems to have passed without challenge as the novel made its way into the world.
The only other answer may be that the choice was deliberately made. Hawkins may—and this is a guess--intend to knit all three female characters into one character, a portrait of middle-class women 21st Century Britain. But whether this approach works in this fictional context is a question I’d say comes up negative. The result is rather wan.
Copyright 2015 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield’s latest (yet to be published) novel is Butchertown, a ripping, 1920s gangster shoot-‘em-up. He is also the author of the contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark, winner of the IPPY, NIEA, and Halloween Book festival awards for horror in 2012. He’s also author of the original screenplays Whackers and The Uglies (e-book editions only). Published by Ambler House Publishing, those three are available at Amazon in various editions. You can also find his work at Barnes and Noble, Powell's Books, and Scribed. He also “friends” on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, reads at Goodreads and drinks at various bars around the East Bay. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.