Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Off-putting in some way

I seem to be a little out of sync with the rest of the world in my impressions of The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. We're all in agreement that this is a serviceable page-turner, but less so about what works and what doesn't.

The girl on the train is Rachel, a grown trainwreck of a woman. She sees the same faces, the same scenes, day in, day out; what commuter doesn't feel this sense of familiarity about the strangers that surround them. Rachel gives her regulars backstory. Then one of them goes missing.

I was not prepared for how depressing this book was. She drinks and she whines, she can't let go and she can't move on. But this is no parody. This is love and hope, and fertility and motherhood, and family and fulfilment, and things going wrong, love going wrong. This is life.
I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I'm off-putting in some way. It's not just that I've put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it's as if people can see the damage written all over me, they can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.
One review asserts that "with a protagonist so determined to behave illogically, self-destructively and frankly narcissistically (someone even refers to her as “Nancy Drew”), it’s tough to root for Rachel." To the contrary, I think she is a devastating character, wholly believable, if pathetic, and it's concern for her fate that carried me along to the end.

The story switches narrators along the way. Many readers like the shifting perspective, and I see its narrative value, but the other narrators are not so well drawn as Rachel. "So I'm sailing along in my bubble of happiness" is exactly the kind of thing someone in a bubble of happiness wouldn't say. Rachel, unreliable as she is, is clearly the main narrator, the one with a story to tell; the others come along merely to move the plot.

I won't relate the plot here, as I'm stunned that so many tell so much, when the pleasure is all in the unfolding. This review at NPR manages reasonably well.

The Girl on the Train is a mostly believable scenario. It shows how what we remember is often only what we imagine. It shows the extent of desperation we might be capable of. Rachel, and the other women for that matter, is redeemed only because extreme circumstances pushed her too far; she was snapped back to reality. But it doesn't show the rest of us a way back; part of me thinks this book should be a feminist rallying cry (I mean, even the title is dismissive of women), and I'm dismayed that it's not recognized as such, but I know this is not that book. It's just a ripping thriller.


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