Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was a literary smash hit this past summer—I finally got around to reading it this week over spring break and can’t decide whether or not I’m surprised by the amount of success it got.

A thriller set in 2012-2013, The Girl on the Train weaves the perspectives of three women and their husbands in an intriguing knot of murder and domestic problems. Rachel, Anna, and Megan live three very different lives (unemployed alcoholic, new mother, and depressive with a dark past, respectively) though their situations begin to get more similar by the end.

original_the_girl_on_the_trainHawkins’ use of details and the complexity of the characters made this a solid read. I had read that this was a book that couldn’t be put down, but didn’t find this completely true for me until the mid-200’s (and with only 323 pages, that’s a bit late in the game). This was most likely a trade-off for the amount of detail Hawkins used in constructing the narrative and exploring her characters’ flaws: with so much interesting material crammed in, it’s hard to build up a fast pace.

Blakeley from Blake’s Little Library seemed to have similar feelings about this book: check out her review here. Maybe I don’t read enough thrillers, but I didn’t find the ending quite as predictable as she did; however, I did find the ending to be cliche, and some character motivations were unclear to me. Without giving too much away, the culprit gave the stereotypical “this is what happened and this is why I did it” speech, which felt unnecessary after we got to see the full event from the victim’s perspective. Additionally, Anna’s motivations in the last few scenes were intentionally unclear for suspense, but felt too muddy even in the sections told from her perspective. This was rare for Hawkins, who otherwise painted such vivid and realistic images of her characters.

Overall

The writing was very good, though lacked subtlety often (a pretty big contrast to my last great read, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, which you can read my review of here). On the one hand, the slower pace and cliched ending structure are the source of my surprise that this book took off like it did. On the other, the same can be said of immensely popular generic thrillers’ like James Pattersons’ (though Hawkins’ quality of writing is significantly better).

Would recommend to readers of popular contemporary fiction, a fun read for vacation.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You brought me back to a type of reading I haven’t been able to do in a long time: I devoured this thing. In high school I probably would have finished this in a day and a half (I never said I had a life).  This week, amidst class readings and work shifts and meetings, I crammed this in in three days—it’s that good.everythinginevertoldyou-celesteng

The opening line, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” establishes the fine line that Ng’s story traces throughout, that between bare honesty and concealment. The reader is often in a place in which we know everything, yet nothing at all; even after the “reveal” at the end, I felt like I was still trying to decipher more about Lydia and her family. They become real enough that I knew there were more nooks and crannies to be explored.

Ng’s prose is masterful in its efficiency; though this book is small, it is mighty. She does not waste a single word of this text, there is no fluff to sift through. The internal workings of each character flow beautifully into the puzzle of the family, and Ng’s most powerful moments are often the most subtle. Repeatedly, at a tiny observation or particular wording, I would have to sit back and simply say “…oh” as I registered the emotional impact.

Would highly recommend to all readers of contemporary realistic fiction.

Rating: 5/5