RAD Book Club review: The Girl on the Train

27 Jul 2016

This week we discussed the bestselling The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. We also thoroughly enjoyed some homemade gin & tonic cupcakes, to link to the main character’s favourite train beverage!

Approaching a best-selling novel that has been prevalent in the public imagination was interesting: some of the group were disappointed and felt that it did not live up to the hype, whereas others found that they enjoyed it more than they thought they would.

The whole group agreed that the novel was easy to read, and most of the group were hooked by the fast-paced plot although some found that the novel’s middle section went on a little too long. The ending may have been a bit too convenient and formulaic, especially after the long build-up to the final scene. A general sense of confusion permeated the novel and we discussed how much of that was deliberate on the author’s part, to enhance the representation of the main character, Rachel’s, mental state.

Rachel herself narrates most of the book and her character certainly caused some discussion as she is a profoundly unreliable narrator, due to her alcoholism. She proved to be a divisive character as she spends quite a lot of the novel intoxicated, which people either found frustrating or compelling. However, all agreed that she was the most interesting and complex character, and that having an unreliable narrator made the book more engaging.

The other characterisations, however, the group thought were under-developed, with stereotypical elements to the male characters: many of their character traits and motives weren’t explained very well. The choice to have a female lead character, flipping the stereotype of the hard-drinking male detective in the thriller genre, which was generally felt to be a refreshing change but the group also discussed the female characters in relation to motherhood (one character cannot have children, one loses her daughter and another has a child and believes her life should be perfect) and it was felt by some that the novel took too conservative a stance towards women and their roles in relation to having a family.

There was also some discussion around where the book fits into the thriller genre (and some comparison of the marketing of this novel after the release of the hugely successful Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn), and also of the theme of flawed or missing memory and how it plays a part in many popular thriller narratives by adding a sense of uncertainty.

One of the things the group liked the best was the setting of the novel in and around London and the journeys Rachel often makes on the train. We all recognised this kind of commute and thought that it brought the novel very much to life (especially as many of us read the novel whilst on the train!). We discussed how the filmed version to be released this October, which is set in New York, will compare to the original novel’s London setting.

Whilst this was the last book we had planned for this series, we will be having a bonus meeting to say farewell to our colleague and fellow Book>Club member Lizzie. For her last Book Club, Lizzie put forward two choices and the group voted to read Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb.