Monday, February 2, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train (2015)
Written by Paula Hawkins
Narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher
Run Time: 10 hours 59 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audio/Riverhead

Occasionally, I take the commuter train to downtown Los Angeles' iconic Union Station for certain work items. Along the way, I often gaze out the window, only to see the back of industrial buildings and districts. It was with this frame of reference that I gravitated toward the first big bestseller of 2015, Paula Hawkins' highly anticipated debut The Girl on the Train.

Take a mystery, add Hitchcock voyeurism, British flair and a dash of Gone Girl to make a gripping thriller. Rachel the title character, has been battling alcoholism and coming to terms with a divorce. During her commute, she sees her idea of a perfect couple on a house balcony and imagines their lives. On an average day, she sees the wife is not there and an investigation ensues. Anna is the wife of Rachel's ex-husband and despises Rachel for her various afflictions. The third narrator is Megan, the wife that has gone missing.

The book is unmistakably British and it's all the better for it. I read some early reviews that complained about the use of British slang like "petrol" and "bonnet," but for me, it made me like the novel even more. I like books that give a real sense of time and place and this novel does that in spades.

The Girl on the Train's voyeuristic tones trace directly to Alfred Hitchcock. Most people think of his style in the form of the infamous shower scene in Psycho, but a better example is that film's opening sequence. After the opening credits and the famous Bernard Hermann score, the camera pans across the Phoenix cityscape and glides through the window of an open office building to where the action begins to unfold. I kept thinking back to that whenever Rachel described what she was seeing outside the train.

Understandably, the book has been compared to Gone Girl, which it does have some similarities. Both feature marriage troubles and a desperate housewife, but the likeliness pretty much ends there.

Overall, I liked The Girl on the Train despite it having characters I didn't root for. It's hard watching characters make the wrong choices over and over again, but I was genuinely surprised at the ending. One of the narrators desperately tries to right the ship and solves the case in a way that I didn't see coming and when I looked back on it, the plot made perfect sense. It wasn't just a plot twist for the sake of having a twist. Hawkins constructed a realistic, detailed world and trusts her audience, while managing to stay one step ahead.

Grade: 4/5 stars. It's a dark thriller, but it wasn't as bleak or jaded as some other books in the genre like Gone Girl, which made it more palpable for me. The audio narration was superb, with each character clearly defined and the book breezed right by like a commuter train. If you like the genre, pick this one up and enjoy the ride.

As one may expect, a film version is in the works. Per the latest news, a script is due to be turned in soon.

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