The debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives, from the author of Into the Water.
“Nothing is more addicting than The Girl on the Train.”—Vanity Fair
“The Girl on the Train has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl. . . . [It] is liable to draw a large, bedazzled readership.”—The New York Times
“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 Boston Globe
“Gone Girl fans will devour this psychological thriller.”—People
EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. 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 goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
FRIDAY, JULY 5, 2013
There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth—a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It's probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they're here often enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can't help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.
The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards London, moving at a brisk jogger's pace. Someone in the seat behind me gives a sigh of helpless irritation; the 8:04 slow train from Ashbury to Euston can test the patience of the most seasoned commuter. The journey is supposed to take fifty-four minutes, but it rarely does: this section of the track is ancient, decrepit, beset with signalling problems and never-ending engineering works.
The train crawls along; it judders past warehouses and water towers, bridges and sheds, past modest Victorian houses, their backs turned squarely to the track.
My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don't see them from this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment. There's something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.
Someone's phone is ringing, an incongruously joyful and upbeat song. They're slow to answer, it jingles on and on around me. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal. I try not to look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned.
The premixed gin and tonic fizzes up over the lip of the can as I bring it to my mouth and sip. Tangy and cold, the taste of my first-ever holiday with Tom, a fishing village on the Basque coast in 2005. In the mornings we'd swim the half mile to the little island in the bay, make love on secret hidden beaches; in the afternoons we'd sit at a bar drinking strong, bitter gin and tonics, watching swarms of beach footballers playing chaotic twenty-five-a-side games on the low-tide sands.
I take another sip, and another; the can's already half empty, but it's OK, I have three more in the plastic bag at my feet. It's Friday, so I don't have to feel guilty about drinking on the train. TGIF. The fun starts here.
It's going to be a lovely weekend, that's what they're telling us. Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies. In the old days we might have driven to Corly Wood with a picnic and the papers, spent all afternoon lying on a blanket in dappled sunlight, drinking wine. We might have barbecued out back with friends, or gone to the Rose and sat in the beer garden, faces flushing with sun and alcohol as the afternoon went on, weaving home, arm in arm, falling asleep on the sofa.
Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I'm living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It's exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you're not joining in.
The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I lift the can to my mouth again, but there's not a drop left.
MONDAY, JULY 8, 2013
It's a relief to be back on the 8:04. It's not that I can't wait to get into London to start my week—I don't particularly want to be in London at all. I just want to lean back in the soft, sagging velour seat, feel the warmth of the sunshine streaming through the window, feel the carriage rock back and forth and back and forth, the comforting rhythm of wheels on tracks. I'd rather be here, looking out at the houses beside the track, than almost anywhere else.
There's a faulty signal on this line, about halfway through my journey. I assume it must be faulty, in any case, because it's almost always red; we stop there most days, sometimes just for a few seconds, sometimes for minutes on end. If I sit in carriage D, which I usually do, and the train stops at this signal, which it almost always does, I have a perfect view into my favourite trackside house: number fifteen.
Number fifteen is much like the other houses along this stretch of track: a Victorian semi, two storeys high, overlooking a narrow, well-tended garden that runs around twenty feet down towards some fencing, beyond which lie a few metres of no-man's-land before you get to the railway track. I know this house by heart. I know every brick, I know the colour of the curtains in the upstairs bedroom (beige, with a dark-blue print), I know that the paint is peeling off the bathroom window frame and that there are four tiles missing from a section of the roof over on the right-hand side.
I know that on warm summer evenings, the occupants of this house, Jason and Jess, sometimes climb out of the large sash window to sit on the makeshift terrace on top of the kitchen-extension roof. They are a perfect, golden couple. He is dark-haired and well built, strong, protective, kind. He has a great laugh. She is one of those tiny bird-women, a beauty, pale-skinned with blond hair cropped short. She has the bone structure to carry that kind of thing off, sharp cheekbones dappled with a sprinkling of freckles, a fine jaw.
While we're stuck at the red signal, I look for them. Jess is often out there in the mornings, especially in the summer, drinking her coffee. Sometimes, when I see her there, I feel as though she sees me, too, I feel as though she looks right back at me, and I want to wave. I'm too self-conscious. I don't see Jason quite so much, he's away a lot with work. But even if they're not there, I think about what they might be up to. Maybe this morning they've both got the day off and she's lying in bed while he makes breakfast, or maybe they've gone for a run together, because that's the sort of thing they do. (Tom and I used to run together on Sundays, me going at slightly above my normal pace, him at about half his, just so we could run side by side.) Maybe Jess is upstairs in the spare room, painting, or maybe they're in the shower together, her hands pressed against the tiles, his hands on her hips.
Turning slightly towards the window, my back to the rest of the carriage, I open one of the little bottles of Chenin Blanc I purchased from the Whistlestop at Euston. It's not cold, but it'll do. I pour some into a plastic cup, screw the top back on and slip the bottle into my handbag. It's less acceptable to drink on the train on a Monday, unless you're drinking with company, which I am not.
There are familiar faces on these trains, people I see every week, going to and fro. I recognize them and they probably recognize me. I don't know whether they see me, though, for what I really am.
It's a glorious evening, warm but not too close, the sun starting its lazy descent, shadows lengthening and the light just beginning to burnish the trees with gold. The train is rattling along, we whip past Jason and Jess's place, they pass in a blur of evening sunshine. Sometimes, not often, I can see them from this side of the track. If there's no train going in the opposite direction, and if we're travelling slowly enough, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of them out on their terrace. If not—like today—I can imagine them. Jess will be sitting with her feet up on the table out on the terrace, a glass of wine in her hand, Jason standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders. I can imagine the feel of his hands, the weight of them, reassuring and protective. Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the last time I had meaningful physical contact with another person, just a hug or a heartfelt squeeze of my hand, and my heart twitches.
TUESDAY, JULY 9, 2013
The pile of clothes from last week is still there, and it looks dustier and more forlorn than it did a few days ago. I read somewhere that a train can rip the clothes right off you when it hits. It's not that unusual, death by train. Two to three hundred a year, they say, so at least one every couple of days. I'm not sure how many of those are accidental. I look carefully, as the train rolls slowly past, for blood on the clothes, but I can't see any.
The train stops at the signal as usual. I can see Jess standing on the patio in front of the French doors. She's wearing a bright print dress, her feet are bare. She's looking over her shoulder, back into the house; she's probably talking to Jason, who'll be making breakfast. I keep my eyes fixed on Jess, on her home, as the train starts to inch forward. I don't want to see the other houses; I particularly don't want to see the one four doors down, the one that used to be mine.
I lived at number twenty-three Blenheim Road for five years, blissfully happy and utterly wretched. I can't look at it now. That was my first home. Not my parents' place, not a flatshare with other students, my first home. I can't bear to look at it. Well, I can, I do, I want to, I don't want to, I try not to. Every day I tell myself not to look, and every day I look. I can't help myself, even though there is nothing I want to see there, even though anything I do see will hurt me. Even though I remember so clearly how it felt that time I looked up and noticed that the cream linen blind in the upstairs bedroom was gone, replaced by something in soft baby pink; even though I still remember the pain I felt when I saw Anna watering the rose-bushes near the fence, her T-shirt stretched tight over her bulging belly, and I bit my lip so hard, it bled.
I close my eyes tightly and count to ten, fifteen, twenty. There, it's gone now, nothing to see. We roll into Witney station and out again, the train starting to pick up pace as suburbia melts into grimy North London, terraced houses replaced by tagged bridges and empty buildings with broken windows. The closer we get to Euston, the more anxious I feel; pressure builds; how will today be? There's a filthy, low-slung concrete building on the right-hand side of the track about five hundred metres before we get into Euston. On its side, someone has painted: LIFE IS NOT A PARAGRAPH. I think about the bundle of clothes on the side of the track and I feel as though my throat is closing up. Life is not a paragraph, and death is no parenthesis.
The train I take in the evening, the 5:56, is slightly slower than the morning one—it takes one hour and one minute, a full seven minutes longer than the morning train despite not stopping at any extra stations. I don't mind, because just as I'm in no great hurry to get into London in the morning, I'm in no hurry to get back to Ashbury in the evening, either. Not just because it's Ashbury, although the place itself is bad enough, a 1960s new town, spreading like a tumour over the heart of Buckinghamshire. No better or worse than a dozen other towns like it, a centre filled with cafés and mobile-phone shops and branches of JD Sports, surrounded by a band of suburbia and beyond that the realm of the multiplex cinema and out-of-town Tesco. I live in a smart(ish), new(ish) block situated at the point where the commercial heart of the place starts to bleed into the residential outskirts, but it is not my home. My home is the Victorian semi on the tracks, the one I part-owned. In Ashbury I am not a homeowner, not even a tenant—I'm a lodger, occupant of the small second bedroom in Cathy's bland and inoffensive duplex, subject to her grace and favour.
Cathy and I were friends at university. Half friends, really, we were never that close. She lived across the hall from me in my first year, and we were both doing the same course, so we were natural allies in those first few daunting weeks, before we met people with whom we had more in common. We didn't see much of each other after the first year and barely at all after college, except for the occasional wedding. But in my hour of need she happened to have a spare room going and it made sense. I was so sure that it would only be for a couple of months, six at the most, and I didn't know what else to do. I'd never lived by myself, I'd gone from parents to flatmates to Tom, I found the idea overwhelming, so I said yes. And that was nearly two years ago.
It's not awful. Cathy's a nice person, in a forceful sort of way. She makes you notice her niceness. Her niceness is writ large, it is her defining quality and she needs it acknowledged, often, daily almost, which can be tiring. But it's not so bad, I can think of worse traits in a flatmate. No, it's not Cathy, it's not even Ashbury that bothers me most about my new situation (I still think of it as new, although it's been two years). It's the loss of control. In Cathy's flat I always feel like a guest at the very outer limit of her welcome. I feel it in the kitchen, where we jostle for space when cooking our evening meals. I feel it when I sit beside her on the sofa, the remote control firmly within her grasp. The only space that feels like mine is my tiny bedroom, into which a double bed and a desk have been crammed, with barely enough space to walk between them. It's comfortable enough, but it isn't a place you want to be, so instead I linger in the living room or at the kitchen table, ill at ease and powerless. I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 2013
The heat is building. It's barely half past eight and already the day is close, the air heavy with moisture. I could wish for a storm, but the sky is an insolent blank, pale, watery blue. wipe away the sweat on my top lip. I wish I'd remembered to buy a bottle of water.
I can't see Jason and Jess this morning, and my sense of disappointment is acute. Silly, I know. I scrutinize the house, but there's nothing to see. The curtains are open downstairs but the French doors are closed, sunlight reflecting off the glass. The sash window upstairs is closed, too. Jason may be away working. He's a doctor, I think, probably for one of those overseas organizations. He's constantly on call, a bag packed on top of the wardrobe; there's an earthquake in Iran or a tsunami in Asia and he drops everything, he grabs his bag and he's at Heathrow within a matter of hours, ready to fly out and save lives.
Jess, with her bold prints and her Converse trainers and her beauty, her attitude, works in the fashion industry. Or perhaps in the music business, or in advertising—she might be a stylist or a photographer. She's a good painter, too, plenty of artistic flair. I can see her now, in the spare room upstairs, music blaring, window open, a brush in her hand, an enormous canvas leaning against the wall. She'll be there until midnight; Jason knows not to bother her when she's working.
I can't really see her, of course. I don't know if she paints, or whether Jason has a great laugh, or whether Jess has beautiful cheek-bones. I can't see her bone structure from here and I've never heard Jason's voice. I've never seen them up close, they didn't live at that house when I lived down the road. They moved in after I left two years ago, I don't know when exactly. I suppose I started noticing them about a year ago, and gradually, as the months went past, they became important to me.
I don't know their names, either, so I had to name them myself. Jason, because he's handsome in a British film star kind of way, not a Depp or a Pitt, but a Firth, or a Jason Isaacs. And Jess just goes with Jason, and it goes with her. It fits her, pretty and carefree as she is. They're a match, they're a set. They're happy, I can tell. They're what I used to be, they're Tom and me five years ago. They're what I lost, they're everything I want to be.
My shirt, uncomfortably tight, buttons straining across my chest, is pit-stained, damp patches clammy beneath my arms. My eyes and throat itch. This evening I don't want the journey to stretch out; I long to get home, to undress and get into the shower, to be where no one can look at me.
I look at the man in the seat opposite mine. He is about my age, early to midthirties, with dark hair, greying at the temples. Sallow skin. He's wearing a suit, but he's taken the jacket off and slung it on the seat next to him. He has a MacBook, paper-thin, open in front of him. He's a slow typist. He's wearing a silver watch with a large face on his right wrist—it looks expensive, a Breitling maybe. He's chewing the inside of his cheek. Perhaps he's nervous. Or just thinking deeply. Writing an important email to a colleague at the office in New York, or a carefully worded break-up message to his girlfriend. He looks up suddenly and meets my eye; his glance travels over me, over the little bottle of wine on the table in front of me. He looks away. There's something about the set of his mouth that suggests distaste. He finds me distasteful.
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, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.
One night last week, when I left my room to get myself a glass of water, I overheard Cathy talking to Damien, her boyfriend, in the living room. I stood in the hallway and listened. "She's lonely," Cathy was saying. "I really worry about her. It doesn't help, her being alone all the time." Then she said, "Isn't there someone from work, maybe, or the rugby club?" and Damien said, "For Rachel? Not being funny, Cath, but I'm not sure I know anyone that desperate."
THURSDAY, JULY 11, 2013
I'm picking at the plaster on my forefinger. It's damp, it got wet when I was washing out my coffee mug this morning; it feels clammy, dirty, though it was clean on this morning. I don't want to take it off because the cut is deep. Cathy was out when I got home, so I went to the off-licence and bought two bottles of wine. I drank the first one and then I thought I'd take advantage of the fact that she was out and cook myself a steak, make a red-onion relish, have it with a green salad. A good, healthy meal. I sliced through the top of my finger while chopping the onions. I must have gone to the bathroom to clean it up and gone to lie down for a while and just forgotten all about it, because I woke up around ten and I could hear Cathy and Damien talking and he was saying how disgusting it was that I would leave the kitchen like that. Cathy came upstairs to see me, she knocked softly on my door and opened it a fraction. She cocked her head to one side and asked if I was OK. I apologized without being sure what I was apologizing for. She said it was all right, but would I mind cleaning up a bit? There was blood on the chopping board, the room smelled of raw meat, the steak was still sitting out on the countertop, turning grey. Damien didn't even say hello, he just shook his head when he saw me and went upstairs to Cathy's bedroom.
After they'd both gone to bed I remembered that I hadn't drunk the second bottle, so I opened that. I sat on the sofa and watched television with the sound turned down really low so they wouldn't hear it. I can't remember what I was watching, but at some point I must have felt lonely, or happy, or something, because I wanted to talk to someone. The need for contact must have been over-whelming, and there was no one I could call except for Tom.
There's no one I want to talk to except for Tom. The call log on my phone says I rang four times: at 11:02, 11:12, 11:54, 12:09. Judging from the length of the calls, I left two messages. He may even have picked up, but I don't remember talking to him. I remember leaving the first message; I think I just asked him to call me. That may be what I said in both of them, which isn't too bad.
The train shudders to a standstill at the red signal and I look up. Jess is sitting on her patio, drinking a cup of coffee. She has her feet up against the table and her head back, sunning herself. Behind her, I think I can see a shadow, someone moving: Jason. I long to see him, to catch a glimpse of his handsome face. I want him to come outside, to stand behind her the way he does, to kiss the top of her head.
He doesn't come out, and her head falls forward. There is something about the way she is moving today that seems different; she is heavier, weighed down. I will him to come out to her, but the train jolts and slogs forward and still there is no sign of him; she's alone. And now, without thinking, I find myself looking directly into my house, and I can't look away. The French doors are flung open, light streaming into the kitchen. I can't tell, I really can't, whether I'm seeing this or imagining it—is she there, at the sink, washing up? Is there a little girl sitting in one of those bouncy baby chairs up there on the kitchen table?
I close my eyes and let the darkness grow and spread until it morphs from a feeling of sadness into something worse: a memory, a flashback. I didn't just ask him to call me back. I remember now, I was crying. I told him that I still loved him, that I always would. Please, Tom, please, I need to talk to you. I miss you. No no no no no no no.
I have to accept it, there's no point trying to push it away. I'm going to feel terrible all day, it's going to come in waves—stronger then weaker then stronger again—that twist in the pit of my stomach, the anguish of shame, the heat coming to my face, my eyes squeezed tight as though I could make it all disappear. And I'll be telling myself all day, it's not the worst thing, is it? It's not the worst thing I've ever done, it's not as if I fell over in public, or yelled at a stranger in the street. It's not as if I humiliated my husband at a summer barbecue by shouting abuse at the wife of one of his friends. It's not as if we got into a fight one night at home and I went for him with a golf club, taking a chunk out of the plaster in the hallway outside the bedroom. It's not like going back to work after a three-hour lunch and staggering through the office, everyone looking, Martin Miles taking me to one side, I think you should probably go home, Rachel. I once read a book by a former alcoholic where she described giving oral sex to two different men, men she'd just met in a restaurant on a busy London high street. I read it and I thought, I'm not that bad. This is where the bar is set.
I have been thinking about Jess all day, unable to focus on anything but what I saw this morning. What was it that made me think that something was wrong? I couldn't possibly see her expression at that distance, but I felt when I was looking at her that she was alone. More than alone—lonely. Perhaps she was—perhaps he's away, gone to one of those hot countries he jets off to to save lives. And she misses him, and she worries, although she knows he has to go.
Of course she misses him, just as I do. He is kind and strong, everything a husband should be. And they are a partnership. I can see it, I know how they are. His strength, that protectiveness he radiates, it doesn't mean she's weak. She's strong in other ways; she makes intellectual leaps that leave him openmouthed in admiration. She can cut to the nub of a problem, dissect and analyse it in the time it takes other people to say good morning. At parties, he often holds her hand, even though they've been together years. They respect each other, they don't put each other down.
I feel exhausted this evening. I am sober, stone-cold. Some days I feel so bad that I have to drink; some days I feel so bad that I can't. Today, the thought of alcohol turns my stomach. But sobriety on the evening train is a challenge, particularly now, in this heat. A film of sweat covers every inch of my skin, the inside of my mouth prickles, my eyes itch, mascara rubbed into their corners.
My phone buzzes in my handbag, making me jump. Two girls sitting across the carriage look at me and then at each other, with a sly exchange of smiles. I don't know what they think of me, but I know it isn't good. My heart is pounding in my chest as I reach for the phone. I know this will be nothing good, either: it will be Cathy, perhaps, asking me ever so nicely to maybe give the booze a rest this evening? Or my mother, telling me that she'll be in London next week, she'll drop by the office, we can go for lunch. I look at the screen. It's Tom. I hesitate for just a second and then I answer it.
For the first five years I knew him, I was never Rachel, always Rach. Sometimes Shelley, because he knew I hated it and it made him laugh to watch me twitch with irritation and then giggle because I couldn't help but join in when he was laughing. "Rachel, it's me." His voice is leaden, he sounds worn out. "Listen, you have to stop this, OK?" I don't say anything. The train is slowing, and we are almost opposite the house, my old house. I want to say to him, Come outside, go and stand on the lawn. Let me see you. "Please, Rachel, you can't call me like this all the time. You've got to sort yourself out." There is a lump in my throat as hard as a pebble, smooth and obstinate. I cannot swallow. I cannot speak. "Rachel? Are you there? I know things aren't good with you, and I'm sorry for you, I really am, but . . . I can't help you, and these constant calls are really upsetting Anna. OK? I can't help you anymore. Go to AA or something. Please, Rachel. Go to an AA meeting after work today."
I pull the filthy plaster off the end of my finger and look at the pale, wrinkled flesh beneath, dried blood caked at the edge of my fingernail. I press the thumbnail of my right hand into the centre of the cut and feel it open up, the pain sharp and hot. I catch my breath. Blood starts to ooze from the wound. The girls on the other side of the carriage are watching me, their faces blank.
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