A lot can happen in the world of commuting and Rachel Watson knows this better than anyone. Divorced, depressed, unemployed and an alcoholic, Rachel sticks to her daily commute so as to not be kicked out onto the streets for the state of her spiralling life; a commute however, passes by the house that her ex-husband, his mistress and their daughter share behind the rail tracks.
With her own life in the pits, Rachel seeks comfort from cheap pre-mixed gin and tonics and a ‘fictional’ couple she looks for with each day’s commute. Only knowing the address of the couple and what they look like from the train window, Rachel invests herself in the life of ‘Jess’ and ‘Jason’ aka. THE perfect couple with the perfect lives. Living vicariously through a couple whom she has never spoken to, let alone met, Rachel counts down the hours until she can take the train past their home.
Concealing her unemployment and drunken phone calls to her ex-husband’s house, Rachel’s world is shaken when she notices something not entirely right when passing by her old street. Before she knows it, both her life and the lives of ‘Jess and Jason’ are spiralling further out of her control. The perfect couple are no longer what they seem and Rachel is thrown into their world with feint recollections of a drunken night that connected their worlds for the worse.
- A depressed alcoholic
- A self-obsessed mother
- A sex craved wife
Put ‘em together and what have you got? The perfect voices to tell this story.
Throughout the course of the novel, Paula Hawkins switches up the narrative by jumping between days and between voices. Although each individual narrator has their own characterisation, backstory and voice, they all have an aspect that makes it easy to dislike them no matter how helpless they are. In some aspects it can be off putting to read a story where you don’t get along with the protagonist (or three main characters in this case) even if it’s a simple dislike where you disagree with their actions.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of any three of the main women, I continued to read on in hopes of seeing how their foolish actions would play out for them; would it give them their just desserts or just cause them to be even more foolish? That might be my cynical way to look at the characters but it kept me hooked until the end regardless. However, karma bit me during the last half of the book as I inevitably felt sympathy for a portion of the characters. Touché, Paula Hawkins. You caught me there.
The structure of the story itself is a genius one despite the flawed characters. Hawkins presents a genre of narrative that I haven’t come across in my reading life; she tells a story that is stitched together from fragments of distorted memories, views from a train window, internal secrets and drunken encounters. If the story had been told in a simple first person narrative, ignoring the time stamps and character jumps, then I highly doubt the novel would have been picked for adaptation. Anyone can write about a drunk on a train. It takes a dedicated author to find a story in that.
Due to fault of my own, I went into this novel with high hopes due to the rising stars and reviews it has received in its short publication. This high standard I set for the book could be the reason why it took me so long to finish it in comparison to any other book; I was expecting suspense from the outset. It wasn’t until the book introduced an unexpected turn that I finally indulged in the story and its characters, but even then I was expecting more. Whilst I was promised suspense and plot twists beyond compare, I was given a rip-off firework show and a slightly bendy road to the end.
Although I was able to guess a number of the turns and was ultimately disappointed with some of the novel’s aspects, I enjoyed the story nonetheless; my copy will definitely be forced into the hands of willing friends. However, I’ll make a note to not ruin Hawkins’ next publication with such high standards.
Published: 15th Jan 2015