Girl on the Train (Hawkins)

The Girl on the Train 
Paula Hawkins, 2015
Penguin Group (USA)
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594633669

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck.

She’s even started to feel like she knows them. "Jess and Jason," she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut. (From the publisher.)

See the 2016 film version with Emily Blunt.
Listen to our Movies Meet Book Club Podcast as Hollister and O'Toole discuss the movie and book

Author Bio
Birth—August 26, 1972
Where—Harare, Zimbabwe
Education—Oxford University
Currently—lives in London, England, UK

Paul Hawkins was born and raised in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). Her father was an economics professor and financial journalist. In 1989, when she was 17, she moved to London to study for her A-Levels at Collingham College, an independent college in Kensington, West London. She later read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford Unviersity. After graduation, she spent 15 years as a journalist — as a business reporter for The Times and later as a freelancer for a number of publications. She also wrote a financial advice book for women, The Money Goddess.

Sometime in 2009, Hawkins began to write romantic comedy under the pen name Amy Silver. She wrote four novels, including Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista, but none ever achieved commercial success. Eventually, she decided to challenge herself by writing in a darker mode. Giving up her freelance work to write full-time on fiction, Hawkins ended up borrowing money from her family to make ends meet.

But after only six months, Hawkins finished her novel, and in 2015 The Girl on the Train was published. A complex thriller, with themes of domestic violence, alcohol, and drug abuse, the book became an instant bestseller. It has sold close to 20 million copies in 15 countries and 40 languages and in 2016 was adapted to film starring Emily Blunt. Hawkin's second novel, Into the Water, was released in 2017. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 4/28/2017.)

Book Reviews
The Girl on the Train has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl…. Paula Hawkins [is] no slouch when it comes to trickery or malice…. Ms. Hawkins scrambles the timing of scenes, with Megan gone in one chapter and then present in the next. She also shifts well among her narrators' points of view to keep the reader on edge, and only as the book progresses do these different perspectives begin to dovetail. Scrambling a story is easy, but it's done here to tight, suspenseful effect.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

Paula Hawkins has come up with an ingenious slant on the currently fashionable amnesia thriller.... Hawkins juggles perspectives and timescales with great skill, and considerable suspense builds up along with empathy for an unusual central character.
Guardian (UK)

Like its train, the story blasts through the stagnation of these lives in suburban London and the reader cannot help but turn pages.... The welcome echoes of Rear Window throughout the story and its propulsive narrative make The Girl on the Train an absorbing read.
Boston Globe

Given the number of titles that are declared to be "the next" of a fans have every right to be wary. But Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train just might have earned the title of "the next Gone Girl."
Christian Science Monitor

[A] twisty thriller.... It’s being called the next Gone Girl.
USA Today

[The Girl on the Train] pulls off a thriller's toughest trick: carefully assembling everything we think we know, until it reveals the one thing we didn't see coming.
Entertainment Weekly

Gone Girl fans will devour this psychological thriller.... Hawkins’s debut ends with a twist that no one—least of all its victims—could have seen coming.

Hawkins’s taut story roars along at the pace of, well, a high-speed train.... Hawkins delivers a smart, searing thriller that offers readers a 360-degree view of lust, love, marriage and divorce.
Good Housekeeping

There’s nothing like a possible murder to take the humdrum out of your daily commute.

Rachel takes the same train into London every day, daydreaming about the lives of the occupants in the homes she passes. But when she sees something unsettling from her window one morning, it sets in motion a chilling series of events that make her question whom she can really trust.
Woman’s Day

(Starred review.) [A] psychologically astute debut.... [Hawkins] deftly shifts between the accounts of the addled Rachel, as she desperately tries to remember what happened, Megan, and, eventually, Anna, for maximum suspense. The surprise-packed narratives hurtle toward a stunning climax, horrifying as a train wreck and just as riveting.
Publishers Weekly

[U]nfortunately, by using [different narrators for each chapter], debut author Hawkins confuses the reader. With only a brief look into backstory, undeveloped characters offer no reason or motivation for their actions, and none of them is likable. [A] disappointing psychological thriller. —Marianne Fitzgerald, Severna Park H.S., MD
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Desperate to find lives more fulfilling than her own, a lonely London commuter imagines the story of a couple she's only glimpsed through the train window in Hawkins' chilling, assured debut.... Even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of love and obsession's inescapable links to violence.
Kirkus Reviews

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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