When my sweet friend Bergen approached me about trading guest reviews, I was totally down for it, despite never having done this sort of thing before, because her content is incredible and she is such a delight! If you haven’t checked her blog out before, please go give her a look (and a follow)! Everything below this line will be Bergen’s review – enjoy!
If you were alive and conscious roughly two years ago, you probably remember the immense hype for Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. I was a bit late on the bandwagon for this one, but finally picked it up for a special October treat.
This is a story of betrayals (lots of them, literally all of the betrayals), lies, and the not-so-surprising interconnectedness of our lives. Three women become entangled with one another through a narrative that rotates perspective and a timeline that spirals ever closer to the only conclusion possible.
Plot: 3/5. Everyone is cheating on everyone and that’s kind of the whole point of the story, which I find frustrating. I don’t know whether to complain about that in the plot or the character section, so I’ll just do both. The driving action of the novel is the attempt to solve a murder, but that plot is almost a subplot for all the cheating going on, which feels upside down to me. Also, was literally anyone caught off guard by the ‘twist?’ If so, I apologize for the snark in the previous sentence, but I knew who the killer was probably ¼ of the way in. A murder mystery without the mystery is just…murder, I guess? I enjoyed the subplots of Megan’s anxiety and Rachel’s fight with alcoholism 600% more than the main plot partially for the predictability of said plot, but also because the subplots felt very human and real and intimate somehow. When I was in the head of the woman narrating, I could get lost, but as soon as she would focus back on the plot, I’d lose that engagement.
Characters: 3/5. On their own, some of the characters are compelling. I found Rachel to be an interesting and heroic protagonist as she tries to overcome the awful things that have happened to her and beat her alcoholism. Megan is very complex, ambitious and mentally ill, and we root for her to ultimately find happiness despite her tragic past. Anna is a stone cold bitch (I had zero sympathy for her, I won’t lie). The men are all sort of weird half-baked characters, they have a few distinct personality traits, but unlike the three women, I never really felt like I knew them or connected to them at all. I think the story could have benefitted from us getting into the heads of these toxic characters to better understand the roots of their actions. But when the characters interact, things fall apart. The most compelling parts of the novel are the few snippets when no one is being cheated on or crying about being cheated on or hiding the fact that they’re cheating or blackmailing the person they were cheating with. Keeping track of who is banging whom is exhausting, and it gets to a point where I kind of stopped caring about the interpersonal relationships of the characters because they’re all super shitty. There is not a single healthy relationship in this book, and while I guess that’s kind of the point, it would have been nice to have some balance for context so we could at least have some reprieve once in a while from the misery of the characters’ terrible relationships.
Style: 4/5. This novel is, however, beautifully written. It is dark, atmospheric, contemplative, and very British for that. Like I mentioned above, when I was inside the moment of the narrative, I was immersed and engaged and absolutely loving it. I may read some of Paula Hawkins’ other work to see if she tells a different story better. It is, however, a bit too long. She plays the ‘oh I’m almost remembering something from my blackout!’ card one (or five) too many times and it goes from engaging to overdone. If she had kept the storyline tighter, upped the tension a bit, and cut some of the fat, (most of which consisted of the characters drooling over the psychiatrist for whole scenes), I think it could have been better executed.
Originality: 2/5. The fact that Rachel gets involved because she watches this seemingly perfect couple from the train every day is a unique twist on the ‘everyone is cheating on everyone so now someone is dead’ trope. But the story is basically a huge trope.
Overall: 3/5. A good read for a rainy afternoon if like your mystery enmeshed in pointless drama.
Pro tip: if you want a similar type of book with better plot twists, better characters, and less repetition, might I recommend literally anything by A. J. Waines, a British author who wrote the book Girl on a Train, which I picked up a year ago thinking it was this book. She is the only mystery writer I consistently return to, and as you know I’m hella picky. If you want more information, I will be reviewing one of her titles Dark Place to Hide in the coming weeks.