Rachel takes the train to and from London, like any other commuter. The train always stops at the same signal, opposite a house with a young couple. She is fascinated by them, this perfect couple, whom she calls Jess and Jason (who are, in reality, Scott and Megan). The house a few doors from theirs is the one Rachel and Tom lived in before their marriage broke up, and where Tom now lives with his new wife, Anna and their young child. One day Rachel, looking into Scott and Megan’s house sees something that does not reconcile with her picture of the perfect couple. Then one night Megan disappears. A night when Rachel was in the neighbourhood drunk. She wakes up the next morning with cuts on her head and no recollection of what happened.
Rachel narrates a lot of the book. She is an alcoholic dealing with (or not dealing with) the breakup of her marriage and their inability to have a child. In spite of her regular commutes to London, she does not have a job; the commutes are to fool her flatmate. She is desperately lonely and obsessive. Her narrative does not spare the reader the details of her alcoholism: the blackouts, the vomiting, the shame. The other narrators are the two women, Megan and Anna, one dissatisfied with her life and the other smugly content about hers.
There isn’t a single character in this book who is likable. But the story is so compelling that it’s hard to put down, even though it’s often difficult to be inside Rachel’s head. As the story progresses, you realize that nothing—and no one—is what they seem. And that’s what makes this book so good: the gradual unpeeling of layers until you get to the truth.
Maybe this is nitpicking, but I wish it had been called The Woman on the Train, which is far more accurate. This title makes me think of Gone Girl, to which it has been compared. This title gives the impression that Paula Hawkins was trying to ride the bandwagon of Gone Girl’s success, and there really was no need for it. The Girl on the Train is perfectly capable of standing on its own as an excellent crime novel.