A blackout of pages--262 to 295. Such a dilemma. Do I stop reading and go in search of the missing pages or press on? Let me tell you the last sentence I read before faced with this question and I bet you can guess what I did.
"I was in the underpass and he was coming towards me, one slap across the mouth and then his fist raised, keys in his hand, searing pain as the serrated metal smashed down against my skull."
Yes, yes, that is the passage that they left me hanging on. Do you think the printer did this on purpose? Maybe there is a vicious troll living in the machines that print out the pages and bind the books together and even now he is laughing his wicked and disconcerting laugh.
So, I pressed on. It was a little painful and goes against all I believe in when reading a book (skipping, skimming--if I am committed to reading I am the sort of reader who reads every last a, the, and, and but. I had to know and I couldn't bear to wait until the weekend. Besides, the book (defective or not) has to go back to the library on Saturday. So I read to the end and will fill in the blank of missing pages as soon as I can get my hands on a complete copy of Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train.
Who. Who is he? I know all about that underpass and what happened there. It's a memory that has been relived and rehashed over and over. Or sort of. I know that Rachel, the main protagonist, was there but she doesn't remember what happened exactly. But she came away a little bloodied and with the haziest of memories. Of a memory of a red-haired man on the train who smiled at her. Or was it more a knowing look, a critical and knowing look? Surely she just missed a step and fell and knocked her head on the concrete. You see Rachel had been drinking. She has a tendency to drink rather a lot and sometimes she can't remember things. She can't remember great swathes of her life sometimes. Too many G&Ts have a way of doing that to you.
Is 'he' the man on the train? Or is he her ex-husband, Tom? Or maybe Megan's husband, Scott? You know, Scott, whose wife is missing? Or maybe it is Megan's lover, Kamal? Well, I know now (and I'm not telling). I think I missed that 'aha' moment that was coming in those missing thirty or so pages, but I got that last section of the climactic chase and struggle to stay alive.
The Girl on the Train is a nod in the direction of that great classic (and one of my all time favorite movies) Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Rachel takes the train on her daily commute. The same train. The 8:04 from Ashbury to London. It stops every day at a faulty signal along the line. If she sits in carriage D she gets a direct view into one of the Victorian semis that line the track. Often she sees a woman and a man, a married couple, a seemingly happily married couple in their garden. She sometimes catches intimate moments when they are drinking coffee or the husband seems to be talking to his wife from the French doors opening onto the patio. They seem perfectly matched and blissfully happy. Well, Rachel imagines their life together being blissfully happy. She has even taken to calling them Jason and Jess. It's a little voyeuristic, but she looks forward to seeing them every day.
The thing is, Rachel is a mess. Her life is a mess, and it is filled with lies--to her roommate, the police and even to herself. As narrators go, she is not the best one I have come across. She has a story to tell but she fills in the blanks a lot. There are some fantasies and lots of suppositions and maybe a few, tiny white lies. And you know how it goes when you lie. They just take root and grow bigger and bigger and you have to feed them and then they start taking over your life.
Rachel watches "Jason" and "Jess" from the train. And then Jess disappears and Rachel begins trying to fit things together--what she saw and what she thinks happened to Jess. She begins insinuating herself into the lives of these people in ways she shouldn't and that are going to get herself into trouble (see quote above).
I'm not sure where I first read about the Girl on the Train--well before it was published or had even gotten much press. It was early enough that I was at the front of the line for a copy. I like suspenseful novels, and I liked the premise--the idea that a woman witnesses a crime from a moving train and then somehow gets involved. What I wasn't expecting was to dislike not just Rachel but every other character in the book, to have so little faith in anything she had to say or to have almost a complete lack of sympathy for the predicament she gets herself in. If you read the book, be prepared for her to lie to you, too. Of course the minute she takes out that petite bottle of Chenin Blanc from her bag (she at least waited until her return journey home in the evening) and begins to drink alone, right there on the train, you'll begin readjusting all your ideas and perceptions about her. And maybe that's exactly what you are meant to do. A good, old unreliable narrator will certainly put you on edge and make you wonder. When you see how obsessed she is with her ex-husband and his new wife and baby. And how she fantasizes over this unknown couple.
I have mixed feelings about this story (that have nothing to do with those missing pages by the way). I don't need to like a character in a story, and sometimes the more unlikable a character the more interesting a story actually. But I do question motives and actions. This is an entertaining thriller, Hawkins is good at moving the story along at a nice pace, and by the very end I was even more sympathetic towards Rachel than I had expected to be. But some little voice in my head kept saying . . . but Patricia Highsmith made you root for Mr. Ripley even though he was a complete and utter psycho. You read the book with a mixture of fascination, horror and even a little delight at what she managed to pull off. And I kept thinking about Highsmith's story (albeit very different) that takes place on a train, which I am now even more keen to read.
The Girl on the Train is a good choice to wile away a few hours on a cold, snowy afternoon, and I think Paula Hawkins has a lot of potential. While all the right elements are there, I guess for me, it just falls a little short of a Rear Window or Patricia Highsmith, lose-yourself-completely-in-the-story experience.
But I am still going to find those missing thirty pages.