Publisher: Riverhead Books
Released: January 13, 2015
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train...
The Girl on The Train is perfectly ok. Disappointingly and underwhelmingly ok. I haven’t seen the film, but my expectations were set pretty high based on what I’ve heard about the book. They weren’t met.
Nothing felt natural. This isn’t about the realism of the story, I’ve read of giant floating elephants in space which were written about in a way which made it sound natural, but this book gave me a feeling of everything being made up rather than that of a story being told.
The book definitely has very good moments though. Oddly, the best moments for me were the ones where nothing was happening, where loneliness, desperation, personal challenges, and sadness were conveyed in a way which felt very personal and real. Mind you, this didn’t make the characters feel real, but made for some great passages which felt like they could almost have been read as standalone pieces and stood up by themselves. Otherwise the characters just feel, like the rest of the story, a little forced and unnatural. The story itself relies mostly (and predictably) on information being gradually revealed to the reader. I’ve loved this kind of storytelling before, but 20 pages into The Girl on The Train I just found myself not really caring about what happened next. I didn’t feel much shock or surprise at any revelation, and I think this was partly because the reveals were presented in a way which felt so overstated that the DUN DUN DUN sound-effect almost jumped off the page. The reveals weren’t a steady drip of new information, they were an occasional bucket of inoffensively lukewarm water poured down over my head.
After a while it felt formulaic. The reveals and twists didn’t feel like they were there to enhance the plot, the plot felt more like filler meant to carry the reader through to the next reveal. And even the twists felt predictable a lot of the time. Some of them are foreshadowed in ways which made me read on mostly out of some mild interest in how something was going to happen, rather than the interest being in what was going to happen. In some books this is done very deliberately to throw the reader off. You think you know what is going to happen, the book purposefully does it subtly enough that you think you’ve been very clever, and then throws a curveball at you while shouting “HAH, Gotcha!” There is none of that in this book. The foreshadowing is duly dropped into the story like breadcrumbs, and the story eagerly follows the breadcrumbs all the way home.
Yet, despite all that, it’s still an ok book. It’s entertaining enough to serve as a distraction during a commute (I read it almost exclusively on the bus, I didn’t really feel a strong desire to pick it up elsewhere), and the story is satisfying enough not to feel like a waste of time. The problem is that it feels like the kind of story that sets out to blow be away, it feels like the kind of story that should be able to blow me away, but it just doesn’t get close.