Girl on the Train (Hawkins) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We have 2 sets of questions: one from the publisher and a second set graciously offered to LitLovers by Jennifer Johnson, ML, MLIS, Reference Librarian, Springdale (Arkansas) Public Library. Thank you, Jennifer.

1. We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosy, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?

2. How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?

3. In both Rachel Watson’s and Megan Hipwell’s marriages, deep secrets are kept from the husbands. Are these marriages unusual or even extreme in this way? Consider how many relationships rely on half-truths? Is it ever necessary or justifiable to lie to someone you love? How much is too much to hide from a partner?

4. What about the lies the characters tell to themselves? In what ways is Rachel lying to herself? Do all people tell themselves lies to some degree in order to move on with their lives? Is what Rachel (or any of the other characters) is doing any different from that? How do her lies ultimately affect her and the people around her?

5. A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or "true" can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it? Consider examples from the book.

6. One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story? What do you think Paula Hawkins was trying to say about the ways motherhood can define women’s lives or what we expect from women’s domestic lives, whether as wives, mothers, or unmarried women in general?

7. Think about trust in The Girl on the Train. Who trusts whom? Who is deserving of trust? Is Rachel Watson a very trustworthy person? Why or why not? Who appears trustworthy and is actually not? What are the skills we use to make the decision about whether to trust someone we don’t know well?

8. Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

Jennifer's Questions
1. Discuss the voyeuristic curiosity of Rachel. Through these internal and dialog interactions with three different women throughout the book, the author has forced the reader to become guilty of similar curiosity. What does this reflect about reality and society? How reflective is this book on the current societal situation?

2. What similarities can we identify about Anna, Rachel, and Megan? What differences can we identify and how, as the book progress, do those differences fade away as they become more similar?

3. Paula Hawkins’ book has been identified as a “Hitchcockian thriller.” What characteristics make this statement due? How different is the book from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho?

4. Paula Hawkins has 15 years’ experience as a journalist. Does Girl on the Train reflect a journalistic style?

5. Born and raised in Zimbabwe and living in London since 1989, what can we identify from the book that shows her diverse cultural background?

6. Which of the below photos represent how you viewed Rachel?

(Questions by Jennifer Johnson. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution to both Jennifer and LitLovers. Thanks.)

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