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Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Riverhead Hardcover, 336 pages, $26.95

It’s inevitable, I suppose, that this and probably every other review will mention the similarity between “The Girl on the Train” and “Gone Girl,” the mega-hit book of a few years ago. Each book has first-person narratives and surprises lying in wait.

The chapters in “The Girl on the Train” represent the voices of three women: Rachel Watson, the alcoholic ex-wife of Tom Watson; Anna Watson, Tom’s current wife; and Megan Hipwell, Anna’s neighbor.

Rachel is the woman (not girl) on the train, traveling daily from a suburb into London, who looks out the window as the train passes by her old home, the one currently occupied by her ex-husband and his new wife. She can barely tolerate seeing it, so she watches the house a few doors down. She often sees an attractive couple there. Jess and Jason, she calls them, not knowing who they really are. “Jess” is actually named Megan, and Megan disappears one night.

Rachel was in an alcoholic stupor in Megan’s neighborhood on the night Megan disappeared. She doesn’t know if she knows anything about Megan’s disappearance or not. Perhaps she even had something to do with it. One thing Rachel does know is that she saw Megan with another man at her home the day before as her train passed by.

Why is Rachel even in her old neighborhood? In her alcoholic slide, described in cringe-worthy detail by Hawkins, she compulsively contacts her ex-husband. She awakens in the morning with no remembrance of the emails and voicemails she left for him the night before. Then, of course, she has to contact him with apologies. It’s never-ending. And sometimes she visits. "Visit" sounds too polite. Sometimes she stalks her old home.

After Megan disappears, Rachel makes one bad decision after another, accelerating her involvement in what is now a police matter.

Paula Hawkins has crafted a pretty good tale of suspense. My recommendation is that you don’t try to guess what the ending is and you just let Hawkins pull you wherever she wants to go. It’s not that you couldn’t guess the plot, it’s just more fun to let Hawkins do the work.

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