From Thom Chamblis, Executive Director of Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association:
I am one of those jaded, old booksellers from the 70’s who still thinks “I Claudius” is a great book. So you may excuse me if I don’t get all excited about the Bestseller Lists. For instance, take a look at our #1 hardcover bestseller (and everyone else’s Bestseller, too!) The Girl on the Train. I pretty much stopped reading thrillers years ago, after going through a phase with them and burning out. The Eye of the Needle was my all-time favorite. I read it on the sofa in one day while I was home sick with the flu. Wow. WW2 history, great characters, wonderfully descriptive setting, etc. etc. I actually learned something on my way to seeing (what turned out to be) Donald Sutherland get his due.
When I saw copies of the Girl on the Train on the free table at ABA’s Winter Institute, I broke my vow of thriller celibacy and grabbed a copy. What the hey, maybe I need to give the genré another try. I read it on the plane returning from North Carolina. My take? Thriller Porn. As in, it has no social redeeming value. The characters are flat, the settings are dull, the intrigue is minimal, and the denouement is totally predictable.
Tess Gerritsen “could not put it down.” Really? Because you were really loving it or because it was super-glued to your fingers?? I learned nothing from this book, except maybe how to write a lousy thriller. The three main male characters are wastes. Two are closet wife-beaters and all three sleep with anyone who sits near them. The women are similarly as dumb as the teens in a horror movie featuring smiley masks. “Don’t go in the tunnel alone at night!!!” Sheesh.
Personally, I would recommend those of you considering The Girl on the Train to try The Eye of the Needle instead: it’s a lot better, and a lot better for you, too!
From Miriam Landis at Island Books:
To my great delight, last week I learned that my mother-in-law, her best friend, and I were all reading the same book at the same time. “I’m so into this thriller,” my MIL confessed, “that when someone on my flight said, ‘Hey Chuck!’ I looked up and said ‘Yes?’”
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins drove all of us to distraction. Rachel is a divorced woman who has developed a voyeuristic fascination with a “perfect” couple she sees regularly on her daily commute. As her train passes their courtyard each day, she develops her own fiction for their lives—a life she wishes were her own. The fact that they live a few doors down from her own previous residence, now inhabited by her ex-husband, his current wife, and their new baby, is no coincidence.
Rachel’s fixation isn’t the story, except that she witnesses something about the couple one day that she shouldn’t have seen. Add in Rachel’s severe drinking problem, a night of poor decisions when she gets off at the “perfect” couple’s stop, and a blackout that leaves her with no memory of that night, and suddenly Rachel is a central figure in a woman’s disappearance.
The Girl On the Train is already being relentlessly billed as the next Gone Girl. It’s not the right comparison. While TGOTT has the potential to reach Gone Girl‘s level of popularity, the more appropriate comparison would be S.J. Watson’s superb psychological thriller, Before I Go To Sleep. (Note that Watson raved about Hawkins’s book). Yes all three bestsellers feature unreliable narrators, but Watson’s and Hawkin’s books center around a person who does not remember crucial information. Flynn’s thriller featured narrators who were deliberately lying, not people who had blocked out the truth.
Rachel’s amnesia is particularly frustrating because it’s wrapped up in her alcoholism. If she would just stop drinking, maybe she could figure out what happened! It’s that constant moral failing that makes the book so aggravating and intriguing for the reader. Just when Rachel seems close to making a breakthrough (meaning, we might finally find out the truth), her addiction rears its ugly head. She’s her own, and thus our worst enemy.
What Hawkins so brilliantly captures is the limits of human memory and point of view. While Rachel is the central character, the narration alternates between the voices of the three central women: Rachel, her husband’s new wife, Anna, and the “perfect” wife, Megan. All three only know part of the story, and because all are biased and none are omniscient, the gaps between what they think happened and what really happened are where the most compelling elements of the novel exist. It’s what isn’t said that makes this book so very good.
The sense of dread throughout TGOTT gives it a Hitchcock-like flavor and Hawkins delivers a shocking yet satisfying finish. I can only hope the inevitable film version will be half as good.