About the Author
Duncan Abel is a writer of plays, radio plays and short stories. He lectured in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire from 2014 to 2015. Duncan was shortlisted for the 2010 Luke Bitmead Award, for his novel The Way Home. He is currently under commission, with Rachel Wagstaff, to Original Theatre Company.
Paula Hawkins is a Zimbabwe-born British author, best known
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Excerpted from "The Girl on the Train"
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What People are Saying About This
“The Girl on the Train has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl. . . . The Girl on the Train is liable to draw a large, bedazzled readership too. . . . The Girl on the Train is full of back-stabbing, none of it literal.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The Girl on the Train marries movie noir with novelistic trickery. . . hang on tight. You'll be surprised by what horrors lurk around the bend.”—USA Today
“Like its train, the story blasts through the stagnation of these lives in suburban London and the reader cannot help but turn pages. . . . The welcome echoes of Rear Window throughout the story and its propulsive narrative make The Girl on the Train an absorbing read.”—The Boston Globe
“[The Girl on the Train] pulls off a thriller's toughest trick: carefully assembling everything we think we know, until it reveals the one thing we didn't see coming."—Entertainment Weekly
“Gone Girl fans will devour this psychological thriller. . . . Hawkins’s debut ends with a twist that no one—least of all its victims—could have seen coming.”—People
“Given the number of titles that are declared to be 'the next' of a bestseller . . . book fans have every right to be wary. But Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train just might have earned the title of 'the next Gone Girl.”—Christian Science Monitor
“Hawkins’s taut story roars along at the pace of, well, a high-speed train. …Hawkins delivers a smart, searing thriller that offers readers a 360-degree view of lust, love, marriage and divorce.”—Good Housekeeping
“There’s nothing like a possible murder to take the humdrum out of your daily commute.”—Cosmopolitan
"Paula Hawkins has come up with an ingenious slant on the currently fashionable amnesia thriller. . . . Hawkins juggles perspectives and timescales with great skill, and considerable suspense builds up along with empathy for an unusual central character."—The Guardian
“Paula Hawkins deftly imbues her debut psychological thriller with inventive twists and a shocking denouement. … Hawkins delivers an original debut that keeps the exciting momentum of The Girl on the Train going until the last page.”—Denver Post
“This fresh take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window is getting raves and will likely be one of the biggest debuts of the year.”—Omaha World-Herald
“Hawkins’s tale of love, regret, violence and forgetting is an engrossing psychological thriller with plenty of surprises. . . . The novel gets harder and harder to put down as the story screeches toward its unexpected ending.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A gripping, down-the-rabbit-hole thriller.”—Entertainment Weekly Hotlist
“The Thriller So Engrossing, You'll Pray for Snow: Send in the blizzards, because nothing as mundane as work, school or walking the dog should distract you from this debut thriller. A natural fit for fans of Gone Girl-style unreliable narrators and twisty, fast-moving plots, The Girl on the Train will have you racing through the pages."—Oprah.com
“It's difficult to say too much more about the plot of The Girl on the Train; like all thrillers, it's best for readers to dive in spoiler-free. This is a debut novel—Hawkins is a journalist by training—but it doesn't read like the work of someone new to suspense. The novel is perfectly paced, from its arresting beginning to its twist ending; it's not an easy book to put down. . . . . What really makes The Girl on the Train such a gripping novel is Hawkins' remarkable understanding of the limits of human knowledge, and the degree to which memory and imagination can become confused.”—NPR.org
“[L]ike Gone Girl, Hawkins's book is a highly addictive novel about a lonely divorcee who gets caught up in the disappearance of a woman whom she had been surreptitiously watching. And beyond the Gone Girl comparisons, this book has legs of its own.”—GQ.com
“Paula Hawkins’ thriller is a shocking ride.” –US Weekly
“An ex-wife indulges her voyeuristic tendencies in Paula Hawkins’s film-ready The Girl on the Train. In the post-Gone Girl era, crimes of love aren’t determined by body counts or broken hearts, but by who controls the story line.” –Vogue
“The Girl on the Train [is] a harrowing new suspense novel…a complex and thoroughly chilling psychological thriller… The Girl on the Train is one of those books where you can’t wait — yet almost can’t bear — to turn the page. It’s a stunning novel of dread.” –New York Daily News
“The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a psychologically gripping debut that delivers.” –The Missourian
“The Girl on the Train is the kind of slippery, thrilling read that only comes around every few years (see Gone Girl).” –BookPage
“Hawkins, a former journalist, is a witty, sharp writer with a gift for creating complex female characters.” –Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The Girl on the Train is as tautly constructed as Gone Girl or A.S.A. Harrison's The Silent Wife, and has something more: a main character who is all screwed up but sympathetic nonetheless. Broken, but dear. . . . No matter how well it's written, a suspense novel can fall apart in the last pages, with an overly contrived or unbelievable ending. Here, The Girl on the Train shines, with its mystery resolved by a left-field plot twist that works, followed, surprisingly, by what you might call a happy ending.”—Newsday
“I’m calling it now: The Girl on the Train is the next Gone Girl. Paula Hawkins’s highly anticipated debut novel is a dark, gripping thriller with the shocking ending you crave in a noir-ish mystery.” –Bustle
“Rachel takes the same train into London every day, daydreaming about the lives of the occupants in the homes she passes. But when she sees something unsettling from her window one morning, it sets in motion a chilling series of events that make her question whom she can really trust.”—Woman’s Day
“Hawkins’s debut novel is a tangle of unreliable narrators, but what will have readers talking is her deft handling of twists and turns and her eerily fine-tuned narrative. This is one creepy, dark thriller. . . . The book is smartly paced and delightfully complex. Just when it seems Hawkins is leading us one way, Rachel, Anna, or Megan change the game. Nothing can be taken for granted in The Girl on the Train, not even the account of the girl herself.”—Las Vegas Weekly
"Psychologically astute debut . . . The surprise-packed narratives hurtle toward a stunning climax, horrifying as a train wreck and just as riveting."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[A] chilling, assured debut. . . . Even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of love and obsession's inescapable links to violence.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“intricate, multilayered psychological suspense debut, from a staggered timeline and three distinct female narrators. Rachel, who is unabashed in her darker instincts, anchors the narrative. Readers will fear, pity, sympathize and root for her, though she's not always understandable or trustworthy. . . . En route to a terrorizing and twisted conclusion, all three women—and the men with whom they share their lives—are forced to dismantle their delusions about others and themselves, their choices and their respective relationships.”—Shelf Awareness
"This month we're gearing up for Paula Hawkins's mystery The Girl on the Train. Its three narrators keep readers guessing as they try to suss out who's behind one character's shocking disappearance. Can you figure out who did it before they do?"—Martha Stewart Living
“What a thriller!”—People Style Watch
“Hawkins keeps the tension ratcheted high in this thoroughly engrossing tale of intersecting strangers and intimate betrayals. Kept me guessing until the very end.”—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of the Detective D. D. Warren series
“I simply could not put it down.”—Tess Gerritsen, New York Times–bestselling author of the Rizzoli and Isles series
“Gripping, enthralling—a top-notch thriller and a compulsive read.”—S. J. Watson, New York Times–bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep
“Be ready to be spellbound, ready to become as obsessed. . . . The Girl on the Train is the kind of book you’ll want to press into the hands of everyone you know, just so they can share your obsession and you can relive it.”—Laura Kasischke, author of The Raising
“What a group of characters, what a situation, what a book! It’s Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation and a new era.”—Terry Hayes, author of I Am Pilgrim
“Artfully crafted and utterly riveting. The Girl on the Train’s clever structure and expert pacing will keep you perched on the edge of your seat, but it’s Hawkins’s deft, empathetic characterization that will leave you pondering this harrowing, thought-provoking story about the power of memory and the danger of envy.”—Kimberly McCreight, New York Times–bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia
Reading Group Guide
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.
ABOUT PAULA HAWKINS
Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in London. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller. It is being published all over the world and has been optioned by Dreamworks.
- We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosey, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?
- How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?
- In both Rachel Watson’s and Megan Hipwell’s marriages, deep secrets are kept from the husbands. Are these marriages unusual or even extreme in this way? Consider how many relationships rely on half-truths? Is it ever necessary or justifiable to lie to someone you love? How much is too much to hide from a partner?
- What about the lies the characters tell to themselves? In what ways is Rachel lying to herself? Do all people tell themselves lies to some degree in order to move on with their lives? Is what Rachel (or any of the other characters) is doing any different from that? How do her lies ultimately affect her and the people around her?
- A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it? Consider examples from the book.
- One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story? What do you think Paula Hawkins was trying to say about the ways motherhood can define women’s lives or what we expect from women’s domestic lives, whether as wives, mothers, or unmarried women in general?
- Think about trust in The Girl on the Train. Who trusts whom? Who is deserving of trust? Is Rachel Watson a very trustworthy person? Why or why not? Who appears trustworthy and is actually not? What are the skills we use to make the decision about whether to trust someone we don’t know well?
- Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Paula Hawkins
"There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks." Of such incongruities small irregularities in the order of the everyday are the great works of suspense made. And what more resonant and perfect signifier of everyday orderliness than a London-bound commuter train? The legendary reliability of Britain's railroads has long made them central to detective fiction its timetables and ticket clerks providing alibis for every modern sleuth to test.
With her debut novel, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins begins, though, from the place where the dependable reality of the twenty-first-century morning train meets its inevitable counterpart: the commuter's daydreams as she stares out of its windows, catching snapshots of the lives that scroll past. And in the person of Rachel Watson yes, note that last name those daydreams have a discomfortingly obsessive edge. Brooding over a collapsed marriage and medicating her wounds with canned gin and tonics, Rachel finds herself fantasizing about the perfect couple inhabiting one suburban home she passes every morning. When one half of that couple disappears, Rachel's fixation on the pair she thinks of as "Jason and Jess" draws her into a missing-persons case that seems uncannily connected with the life she has been unable to leave behind.
The result is a tightly woven tale of voyeuristic escape, suburban secrets and hidden violence that invokes the work of Highsmith and Hitchcock, and compels an intense, single-sitting read. Paula Hawkins spoke to us from her home in London about the genesis of The Girl on the Train and the allure of that fleeting view out the window. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. Bill Tipper
The Barnes & Noble Review: I wanted to talk to you about looking into other people's windows whether you're looking from a train, as the narrator of this novel is, into the houses that she's passing on the train; or, if you're walking down a city street. There's something those brief glimpses into other people's lives which is almost endlessly fascinating.
Paula Hawkins: I think that's absolutely right. Not always, but often you get a sense of connection if you recognize something, be it a print on the wall or a nice piece of furniture design, and you think, "Oh, that's really lovely; I'd like those people . . . " You almost feel like sometimes that you've made a connection with them. Obviously, in the book she's going way further than that, but I think a lot of people actually do that.
I also think there's a sense of wondering, "What would my life be like if I lived there?" I often have that when I am passing places. You look into somewhere and you think . . . you know, you can sort of imagine how you would be, what sort of person you might be if you lived in that particular house. So I think that's part of the fascination. Or, you know, what are their lives like, those people who are there? What does it say about you that you live there, or you've decorated your house in a certain way or whatever it might be.
BNR: Rachel, the main narrator of this book, goes a bit further she sees two people and she sees the way that they are, and extrapolates a whole life for them.
PH: Obviously, she is projecting a whole lot on to them, partly because she's got herself into this situation. She's thinking about what her old life was and winds up projecting a whole load of emotion onto these people, and creating this ideal life for them, just on the basis of these little glimpses that she sees every day.
BNR: Did this story come from a similar kind of imagining? Not similar, I would hope, to Rachel's own very obsessive fantasizing but were you looking out of a train window into the backs of people's houses and thinking about their lives?
PH: Yes, absolutely. I grew up in Africa, and then I moved to London when I was about seventeen, and I was quite lonely, and I'd left all my friends behind, and I was traveling to the college where I was studying. My train journey was on a tube (i.e., subway) train, but at one point it runs overground and really close to the backs of some apartments. They had little terraces, and people had strung up little lights, colored lights outside, or they had, you know, a table and chairs. I was worshipfully looking at these places. There was something that looked quite bohemian about them, and I could imagine, "Oh, I bet those people have got really nice lives." I could imagine having parties out there, or sitting out, you know, drinking a glass of wine, that sort of thing. I suppose that's when I first got that sense of the slightly wistful quality of looking out from a train window.
BNR: The romance of it.
PH: Yes, romanticizing. Again, that thing of "I bet my life would be so much more fun if I lived there." Rachel, who is thinking specifically about a happy relationship and a baby and all that kind of thing, is looking at it in a very specific way. But I think it could apply to anyone who is feeling perhaps a bit lonely or an outsider or what-have- you. I think this happens to a lot of people in big cities as well, doesn't it, because there is that sort of urban alienation. There's something comforting about seeing people in their homes, those little glimpses where the lights are on and they're all sort of warm and cozy inside.
BNR: Speaking of loneliness, there are three voices that move the story forward here. We have Rachel, who is looking into these lives in this suburban London neighborhood, and we quickly learn there's a couple that she sees there, and that the woman in that couple later disappears. We later hear, both from Megan, who is the woman who disappears, and also from a third voice, Anna, the woman Rachel's ex- husband has remarried. So these three women are the voices that give us the story and they all seem very, in a sense, fearful of being alone.
PH: It's a snapshot of their lives, so we're seeing them at a particular point in which none of them is feeling secure. Rachel has lost all her hopes of domesticity she's lost her marriage and what-have- you. Anna feels threatened by Rachel because she's hanging around. You know, she's aware that there's this Other Woman in the background. While Megan is a really restless person. So we're seeing that they are feeling rather precarious in their domestic situations.
BNR: Rachel, as we know from very early on, uses alcohol as a means of coping. Megan, on the other hand, in order to escape a haunting past, looks for escape in connections with men.
PH: I think Megan is one of those people who is constantly looking for the next best thing. Something else or someone best is going to come along. She is one of those people who can't quite settle on what she's got. As you say, she's trying to escape the horrible things that happened to her in her past, and I think her problem is she's constantly running from it instead of actually just confronting it.
So she tends to latch on to men in the hopes that they're going to make everything better for her, that the next relationship is going to be the one that really makes her whole and happy again. Possibly a therapist would say to her, "You've got to sort these problems out yourself; you can't keep just going to the next guy and hoping that that relationship is going to make you happy and make everything better."
BNR: Meanwhile, Rachel's early marriage has fallen apart, in part because of her drinking, but as I think you very adroitly show, it's almost impossible to sort out the chicken from the egg: Did the problems that she faced cause her to really become an alcoholic? Or did her incipient alcoholism take problems that other people could have dealt with and moved on from, and make them impossible?
PH: Absolutely. I think that's important, that we're not saying that her alcoholism has been caused by something else, because I don't think that's how it happens. I think that those various problems have exacerbated each other kind of thing, and I think that's how addiction takes root, doesn't it? Somebody else faced with her problem the fact that she couldn't have a child might have taken heart in the fact that she was still young. But you could see someone who is a bit hopeless, who has that particular weakness, allowing herself to slide into something.
BNR: She's stuck in that moment, in a piece of the past. But once Rachel learns that Megan the woman that she's been watching every day as she goes by on the train and fantasizing about has disappeared, she becomes obsessed with it, the first really "new" thing since her marriage ended. She's seen something on one of those trips that leads her to believe that she knows something about what really happened something the police don't and that lights a fire under her to pursue it as a mystery.
What's very psychologically compelling is the way that this new obsession only winds up leading her back to her own problem. It was fascinating to me because it connects this to some of the great works of crime and detective fiction inevitably the investigator winds up facing her own buried problems. When you were putting this story together, did you say, "This is going to lead her full circle"?
PH: That was part of it. You talk about her being stuck. She's stuck even in terms of where she's moved. She hasn't moved far away enough. She is not allowing herself to move past this. She literally passes the houses every day on her train journey that she doesn't actually need to take any more, because she drops her job. So she is slightly torturing herself, because, as you say, she will not move on from this idealized notion of the marriage that she had.
I think that was really important, that we're going on something of a journey with her, and although she doesn't defeat all her demons instantly, getting drawn into this mystery is actually a way in which she starts to pull herself out of the mess she's got herself into. She's lost all purpose at the beginning of the book. But solving this mystery, finding out what happened, actually gives her something to do other than just lose herself in her fantasies.
BNR: Much of Rachel's life is centered on her train commute to and from London. Of course, the title, The Girl on the Train, leads one to think about journeys, but Rachel is making only a circular journey, a journey that is, in a sense, sterile, and she has to find a way to make a different journey.
PH: Yes, to break that endless sort of cycle that she's on.
BNR: The detective novel is about a reason or discovery, finding the flaw in the plan and exposing it. But the psychological crime novel is about the past facing it, integrating it, piecing it together, and broken memory or absent memory is where the danger lies. This is a work of memory for Rachel. She has to remember in order to solve the problem.
PH: I think it's really interesting you say that, because there are a lot of psychological thrillers that deal with memory and the problems and sort of amnesias of various sorts. I'm working on another book at the moment, and I'm interested in how the memories we have and the stories we tell about ourselves come to actually make up who we are.
So if those memories are false in some way, if we're mis-remembering, or if we're making up stories from our past, those things can fundamentally change our characters. So yes, I think that's a really interesting way of looking at it.
BNR: Those problems with memory, also, create some of that sense of uncanny in a book like this The Girl on the Train has no supernatural element whatsoever, but it has a haunted sense about it.
PH: Yes. Definitely.
BNR: Rachel has alcoholic blackouts one in which she believes that she smashed the wall with a golf club in a rage though she has no precise memory of doing so. She describes the hole in the wall as a "blinded eye" that stares out at her a dreamlike and disturbing image, and it made me think a lot about the way in which these things that we can't face from our past wind up seeping into the fabric of the rest of life.
PH: Yeah. Even though you deny it and you push it away, I think that the sense of being haunted by it is very real, and those things will push at the edges of the rest of your psyche or everything you do. We see it with Rachel. We see it with Megan perhaps even more so. That she's pushed this thing away, but it just keeps coming back to this horrible memory. It frightens her. As we said, it haunts her. It makes her so afraid that she can't sleep, and that is all about pushing a memory away.
BNR: There are three characters here, all of whom go through related processes of coming to see or understand or face something that they had denied. Did you start with one woman's story, and her demons? Did you plot out all three of them and figure out how to work them together?
PH: I started with Rachel. When first I was writing, I thought I would just write it all, from one perspective.
BNR: So it was all to be Rachel at the beginning.
PH: That was my original idea. But then I found that I really needed Megan's viewpoint. I thought it wouldn't work without Megan. So then actually, most of the book I wrote with those two. . . . I did plot it all out with those two, but then later, at probably about three-quarters of the way in, I decided that I would add Anna's voice as well. So actually, it was plotted through with Rachel and Megan, and then Anna was added.
BNR: How did Anna's voice or perspective change things?
PH: It changed Anna's character. I found that once I was in Anna's head, looking at Rachel, looking at Megan, it changed the way I felt about Anna, becomes a much darker presence, I think, by the end of the book. She starts off as he Other Woman, then she becomes the happy wife and mother, and then she becomes something quite different.
I think I felt that I needed her to see what she was seeing, too. Most of it was plotted out, but there were twists at the end. There were some changes that did just happen organically rather than being planned.
BNR: Did you surprise yourself at all? Did you at the later stages of this say, "Oh, I didn't expect this . . . "
PH: Yeah, I did. I think there's a bit at the end that I completely hadn't thought of, and then it came to me, and I was thinking, "Oh yes, that would be good." Which is a really fun thing to do! It's so enjoyable I can't be one of those people who doesn't plot things out, because that would terrify me. But when things happen that you as the writer hadn't expected, when characters change in ways you hadn't expected them to, that's a really fantastic experience.
BNR: Are there influences or literary models that come to mind? Was this primarily a case of "Here's a story that comes to me and I'm going to follow it and see where it leads"? Or did you think, "I'd like to write a thriller" and go from there?
PH: Well, I think it's a bit of both. This is the genre that I enjoy reading. I really love psychological thrillers. There's an atmosphere of menace that I enjoy. Actually, they don't have to be driven by violence. Take Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal. Or Harriet Lane's Her. No one is murdered in those books or anything like that. But there's this sort of creeping sense of menace, that things are not right, things are not what they seem, people aren't what you think they are. They're not who you think them to be. I really find that fascinating.
BNR: Notes on a Scandal works wonderfully in this way the narrator's character emerges over time as far more obsessive and disturbed than one's first glimpse.
PH: She's very sinister. It's that sort of Hitchcockian atmosphere that you often have of paranoia, of people doubting themselves. "Did I see that? Did I do that? Am I going crazy here?" I really enjoy that. I find that really compelling.
BNR: You talk about enjoying that atmosphere of menace: I read The Girl on the Train in one straight, kind of obsessive gulp, and I had that pleasurable feeling of not being able to finish until I'd seen the culmination of the stories. It's a psychological state that one kind of puts oneself into that curiously mimics the characters the job of a reader in reading a psychological thriller is to experience a bit of the hysteria that is gripping the characters. And it turns out to be quite pleasurable.
PH: It's that feeling of not trusting anyone, suspecting everyone. I actually found when I was writing, I'd walk out and . . . go out to get something from the shops, and I'd feel quite creeped-out. I'd sort of see people and feel wary of them. I wouldn't usually. But I'd obviously got myself into that very sort of paranoid state. Which is fun when you're in the book or the writing, and then, when you step outside, it's actually less fun. You feel slightly unnerved by it.
But it's an odd thing, isn't it. I don't know why we enjoy this. I think partly it's a safe way of experiencing that hair-standing-up-on-the-back- of-your-neck kind of feeling. I suppose there's a bit of an adrenaline punch you get there that is in itself heightening.
January 20, 2015