Strangers on a train

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First Posted: 1/26/2015

Alfred Hitchcock once said: “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” There is no doubt that Hitchcock had an illustrious reputation for keeping his viewers full of suspense. Similarly, any writer who can manage to create a solid plot evoking such tactics, is sure to garner some popularity. In her recent novel, “The Girl on the Train,” author, Paula Hawkins, demonstrates that screenplay is not the only way to keep an audience on their toes.

The novel begins with Rachel Watson, one of our three narrators. A recent divorcee, Rachel cannot cope with solitary life and resorts to filling the void with alcohol and a lot of imagination. Set in London, the story soon trails off from Rachel to Megan, then Anna. While each of the women are connected, it is Rachel that becomes most amplified throughout the text. Megan, who is essentially a stranger to Rachel, quickly becomes an obsession — a voyeuristic experience into what Rachel’s life could have been if she were more beautiful, more successful, more of something less than herself. When readers are introduced to Anna, we begin to sympathize further with Rachel, realizing she is the seemingly perfect second wife to Rachel’s now ex-husband, Tom.

A diminutive voice among the echoes of the night, Rachel lacks confidence in most aspects of her life, looking to strangers for solace as she imagines them in her head as a permanent reality: “My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.”

However, when Megan, one of our key narrators goes missing, Rachel’s fixation turns to that of a detective as she begins to search out clues to Megan’s disappearance. Only problem is, Rachel begins to believe she may have had something to do with it. Here, we delve into the realm of the unreliable narrator — can we really trust Rachel when she cannot even trust herself? While it seems plausible Rachel is the most suspicious of the trio, readers come to find that each of the narrators are not who they seem, and therefore, we follow along the game of whodunit, bringing us down a narrow, dark hall of anticipation to a bang — signaling the final scene.