Review: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (and #Giveaway)


girlTour update: And the Black Diamond tour continues today with a spotlight at Illuminite Caliginosus—spotlight means there’s nothing new to read, just a blurb, but you can enter again for the tour prizes.

I’m also over at the Writerspace blog today, talking about why I think wildlife enforcement agents—i.e., game wardens—make interesting heroes and heroines for suspense novels.

So—gasp!—I have a book review today. I usually call my reviews “drive-bys” because they are my snippets of impressions, not any great exploration of themes. My degree is in Victorian literature, by the way—did enough of those long explorations to last a lifetime.

Since I don’t have any of my own, I decided to read a bestseller, one that has sat atop the NYT list for a year or two and has its own movie (which I also haven’t seen, since the last movie I went to was…are you seated…. “Lincoln.” Yes, that’s just sad.)

The book I chose was The Girl on the Train, a debut novel by Paula Hawkins. It’s supposedly the type of book publishers are clamoring for right now. And my opinions are…a mixed bag.

THE GOOD: It had enough foreshadowing in the early chapters to keep me reading, which is not always the case. I found myself thinking about it. It’s pretty easy to figure out what happened and, eventually, whodunit, but not how it would exactly play out in the end. So as a suspense, it worked reasonably well (see THE BAD, below). I thought the structure of the book, essentially told from three women’s points of view in shifting time periods and with each entry reflecting a morning and evening (to match the morning and evening train rides of the main character, Rachel), was clever. The premise, for anyone who’s ever seen the Hitchcock film “Rear Window,” is a good one—the story of the voyeur who becomes part of the story/drama/crime he or she is watching and imagining. It was a nice twist to have Rachel, who has a serious drinking problem, have blacked out the night in question and spends much of the book recovering the memories that will help her put together the missing pieces to the mystery.

THE BAD: The pacing of the book bothered me, although I eventually settled into its rhythm and it managed to never lose me altogether. It starts out intriguing, settles into blah blah blah blah blah, and, when it finally reached a conclusion it felt rushed. There were a couple of characters, particularly one red-haired man, that I just didn’t see the need for. He wasn’t used as a red herring, or at least not very convincingly, so his only reason to exist was the same as Rachel’s roommate Cathy: to point out what out-of-control miserable Rachel’s life has become, which leads me to….

THE UGLY: These are not nice characters. I did feel sorry for Rachel for a while. I felt sorry for Anna for a while. I felt sorry for Megan for a while—these are the three women whose stories are told and interwoven. Problem is, pity eventually needs to turn into empathy and heroism. We need to pull for someone. In all three of these cases, pity turned to dislike because, well, these are not nice people. The men in the book don’t fare much better—they’re cheaters, abusive, and/or unethical (those are your choices). I guess Anna’s baby is the sympathetic character but she’s not enough.

I’d rate The Girl on the Train a reluctant 4 Gators—it would’ve been an enthusiastic 4 if I’d liked at least one of the characters and 4.5 if I’d liked the characters and if the middle had moved faster. Even at a reluctant 4 Gators, though, it was an interesting read and it WAS suspenseful.

THE GIVEAWAY: Have you read The Girl on the Train (or seen the movie)? Leave a comment to win a copy!

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

13 thoughts on “Review: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins (and #Giveaway)

  1. Great review! I think I liked it just a wee bit more than you did, but I agree with every point you made (good and bad and ugly). I REALLY did not like how the villain, at the end of the story, goes into such detail about how/why they did what they did. It was way too Scooby-Doo. And we already know what happened at that point, so it was unnecessary. What did you think of that bit?

    • I thought the author was trying way too hard to sell us on his motivation, which was sort of, well, Scooby-Doo works–LOL. But I think most of the readers would’ve figured it out by then and there just wasn’t enough motivation there. Except, well, that these are all just not nice people. I keep going back to that. Still, I did overall like the book and never was tempted to put it down and walk away, so maybe I’m nit-picking!