The Girl On The Train is Gone Girl’s brother from another mother


Gone Girl is like the Uber of popular fiction—it became huge very quickly, lives up to its hype and now serves as a linguistic benchmark for equivalent genre-defining success. Seems every new thing is the Uber of something now. Likewise, every best-seller whose plot is even vaguely mystery-adjacent seems now sagely tallied in the column “Gone Girl Afterglow,” a category of books defined by our apparent lingering fascination with sultry whodunits whose screenplay adaptations may or may not include brief glimpses of Ben Affleck’s penis.The Girl on the Train has, in short order, joined that column—it’s been at the top of the fiction lists for weeks. But in this case at least, the comparison is apt. Which is all a long-winded way of saying: If you liked Gone Girl, you will absolutely like The Girl on the Train.

In a recent NYT interview, Richard Price said of books he loved: “I didn’t read them; I snorted them,” which strikes me a great way to describe a page-turner. To be sure, I snorted TGOTT, just like I snorted Gone Girl. And TGOTT’s plot is similar: Every day from the window of her commuter train, Rachel catches a glimpse of “Jess and Jason,” a seemingly happy couple who live in a house not too far from the tracks. A down-on-her-luck alcoholic still mourning the end of her marriage, Rachel comes to emotionally rely on her J&J sightings, which is why she’s shocked one day to spot Jess kissing another man. When Jess goes missing a few days later, Rachel is determined to suss out the culprit, while also trying to remember what, if any, part in Jess’s disappearance she may have played herself.

Perhaps more than their missing-person plots, the main similarity between Gone Girl and TGOTT are in both books’ employment of consistently unreliable narrators. In Gone Girl, that title is shared by both Amy and Nick, the missing wife and her suspicious husband. In The Girl on the Train, the net is wider still, both in narration (the book is told from several points of view) and in the Gosford Park-esque ensemble of characters. There’s Rachel, both an emotionally unreliable narrator and a literally unreliable one; she frequently blacks out after drinking. There’s Tom, Rachel’s exasperated ex-husband, and Anna, his prim new wife. There’s Jess, who turns out to be Megan IRL, and Megan’s husband, Scott (i.e. Jason). There’s Cathy, Rachel’s overtly stable roommate, and Cathy’s boyfriend Damien. There’s Megan’s therapist, Kamal Abdic, and there’s the red-haired man Rachel always sees on the train, but can’t quite remember ever speaking to. And then of course there are the cops, detectives Gaskill and Riley, whom Rachel can never seem to get on her side.

As a public transit commuter who often sees the same people, I understand how easy, tempting even, it is to quietly fabricate stories and backgrounds for the passengers around you in a rumbling train car. For the merely bored, it’s an idle pastime, but for the the stalking-susceptible, even such a small fantasy has the power to blossom into something more powerful, and potentially more sinister. With a talent on par with Gillian Flynn or Susanna Moore, Paula Hawkins has created in Rachel a fantastically ambiguous female lead—as impossible to mentally implicate as she is to like or trust—and surrounded her with equally questionable contemporaries. All told, there are enough characters with enough motives to make Jess/Megan’s disappearance a true whodunit, with a slew of possible culprits. All of which makes The Girl on the Train eminently snortable.


TITLE: The Girl on the Train
AUTHOR: Paula Hawkins
PAGES: 336 (in hardcover)
SORTA LIKE: Gone Girl meets Sharp Objects
FIRST LINE: “There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.”

14 thoughts on “The Girl On The Train is Gone Girl’s brother from another mother”

  1. Absolutely agree that The Girl on the Train is a ‘Gone Girl’ style cracking read. And as you enjoyed (snorted!) both of those books, may I recommend ‘The Kind worth Killing’ by Peter Swanson – I’ll eat my hat (if I had a hat) if you don’t snort it too..

    1. Sold! My conscience couldn’t handle being responsible for any illnesses related to the consumption of haberdashery.

  2. Great review, you’ve certainly piqued my interest. “The Girl on the Train” will now definitely join my burgeoning tbr list. In fact, It’s going to the top of that list.
    Thanks, David

  3. I read Gone Girl a while ago and really loved it. I honestly didn’t guess what was going on until Amy started narrating from the present. While I did like The Girl on the Train, I felt like I knew too early in what was going on. I like to be kept in suspense or be shocked right at the end when it comes to crime thrillers and TGOTT didn’t quite do that for me. That being said, it was a good read and was very well written.

  4. Hah! I too ‘snorted’ Girl on the Train. Started inhaling it Friday night (on a bus, of all places). Came crashing down from my high Saturday morning. Still looking for my next fix. Thanks again for the superb review!

  5. I thought this was one of the best I’ve read in a while; in some ways, liked it better than ‘Gone Girl’ though she might have been able to do the big reveal in a more dramatic fashion. And I’m coming to like reading fiction that’s set in Great Britain or Australia : ) Nice change of pace in cultural references.

  6. So this may be weird, but I have just finished Girl on a train and am about to write a review on it. So I haven’t read your’s yet, so as not to colour my own opinion. However, when I have written it, i will come back and read yours. to see how we agree / disagree. Love this blogging malarky!

  7. My mother read this book and thought it was absolutely brilliant! It was filled with twists and turns bundled up in horror and mystery. A perfect book to get you wanting to read more and more with every flip of the page.

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