The Girl on the Train: My Review and Answers to Book Club Discussion Questions

the girl on the train book coverThis is my review and thoughts of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

First and foremost, I would like to say that I enjoyed this book. It was an easy listen, had fantastic narration, the story moved along well, and was a fun listen.

This book balances itself between largely being entertaining coupled with a slight concept to ponder. Mainly, it is a who-done-it with a flirtation about perspectives & assumptions.

For what it is, it was good.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3
Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

The Girl on the Train 3.5

1. 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?

We absolutely all do this, it’s called Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We all want a peek into how other people live their lives. It can be for a myriad of reasons. For some, it is to compare … are we better than them? Are we keeping up with the status quo? When we put ourselves out there to be viewed it is due to our sense of ego. 

The difference is, for Rachel, she is so lonely, so hateful of herself, that she crosses the line from being a voyeur, to making up stories, to inserting herself in the lives of others. Rachel romanticizes Megan and Scott’s relationship, much like she romanticizes her own relationship with Tom. On Facebook, we put our best face forward, but that is not necessarily what goes on behind closed doors. Tom, in every way, brutally represents this. He puts his best face forward, when on the inside, and behind closed doors, he is the ugliest of them all. 

2. The novel delivers a stark portrayal of someone suffering from a drink problem – Rachel’s battle is present throughout the novel. How does it affect all the people around her?

Rachel’s alcoholism is a main symbol of assumptions. Every character in the book has assumptions made about them that are not necessarily true. Rachel is untrustworthy because of her alcoholism. However, in her case, she proves to be untrustworthy most of the time, so it’s hard to believe her. Yet, in the final instance of this book, she is correct. Tom uses her alcoholism to his advantage and cruel delight by toying with her memory and self-respect. She assumes the worst of herself as well. Anna is assumed to be a wonderful person because she is a mother and loves her child, but that does not make her a saint on all accounts. She comes exceedingly close to letting Tom kill Rachel at the end as to not destroy her idealized life. Anna, more so than anything, does not was her image ruined by Rachel’s discovery. Also, Rachel considers herself bad because she can not have children. Anna is good because she can. Megan is bad because her child died. Megan is not bad because of this, it was a tragic, tragic mistake. Megan punishes herself eternally because of it. 

3. 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?

I’m not sure how Rachael kept secrets from Tom. Megan kept secrets because she loved Scott and did not want him to know what kind of person she was, or thought she was. I think the real shame with Megan was that the lie did not so much ruin her marriage, but her self-inflicted punishment did. 

4. What about the lies the characters tell to themselves? In what ways is Rachel lying to herself?

Rachael lies to herself that sorry is enough. She lies to herself that it is okay, the things that she does. She thinks going to the psychiatrist is okay, inserting herself into Scott’s life is okay, lying to the police is okay. None of it is okay. Regardless of people not trusting her, the way she goes about finding the truth is abhorrent. 

Anna lies to herself that she is enough to keep Tom happy. 

Megan lies to herself that she can keep her secret and that it won’t truly effect those around her. She thinks if she cheats to fill the hole in her heart that it will be enough. 

Scott thinks he alone can be enough to save Megan. 

Tom is just a liar. He lies to himself that killing Megan was the only natural outcome. 

5. 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?

I’ll answer this question a bit differently. I think all of our memories are skewed. We all see things through our own lenses, our own experiences. One person’s take on a situation can be completely different than another.

This often happens in marriages. A husband remembers sex once a month, a wife more than that. What is the truth? A wife thinks she comes home from work loving and excited to see her husband. The husband remembers the wife coming home and complaining.

Why one person at work can remember a situation completely different than a coworker. One coworker remembers the boss being warranted for yelling at someone for being late, another remembers it as the boss coming down hard on them for being young. 

Rachel is impacted by this normal tendency of human nature, but hers is much, much worse due to the alcoholism. She also suffers from an unhealthy perspective. These two things combined, her perspective and blackout memory, create a lot of the turmoil. 

6. 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?

It is clear in the book that the lack of a child drives Rachel’s demise into alcoholism. Of course, we learn later, it was egged on by Tom – a cruel amusement by him. Anna, on the other hand, feels motherhood somehow absolves her of wrongdoing. She is a mother, so naturally, she is above others. She is divine. She is saintly. Whatever must be done to protect her family is acceptable … except, it isn’t. It doesn’t give her the right to entertain that if Rachel dies, regardless of Tom being a monster and Rachel exposing him, Anna’s “perfect” family will remain intact – intentionally ignoring that Tom is a monster.

As for Megan, her story is tragic. She was young and feel asleep. It was most definitely not intentional, she inadvertently caused the death of her child. She feels no one would be able to forgive her and she can’t forgive herself. Society makes her feel that if she loved her child, she would not have let that happen. However, that’s clearly not true. 

It is interesting that Paula Hawkins describes the women’s goodness and honesty in direct relation to motherhood. Rachel is a failure. Megan is cruel and uncaring. Anna is protective. 

7. 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?

We all make assumptions about people. It’s part of our evolution. Paula Hawkins even comments on it in the book. Ted Bundy was a handsome man – no way he could be a killer, but he was. Rachel assumes Megan and Scott are happy because they are beautiful and during brief glances from the train they are. However, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Everyone assumes Scott killed Megan because he is the husband. Everyone assumes Rachael is lying this time because she is a drunk and does lie a lot. 

8. Megan’s disappearance is a mystery for most of the novel. As the book progresses how do your thoughts change on the reason or person behind Megan going missing? How did you feel when you found out the truth?

I felt bad for Megan. So many bad choices and so much self-punishment. 

9. Megan has a lot of secrets in her past, which have continued to haunt her. How do you think her past has affected her? What do you think about the way she has dealt with it?

Her past absolutely affected her future. She could not forgive herself. She could not move on. She wasn’t happy and she didn’t believe she should allow herself to be happy. Megan tries to fill the void with the men that she has affairs with. With each one, she always at some point wants to run away with them. What she really wants to run away from is herself.

10. Who is the worst out of Rachel, Anna, and Megan?

To me, Anna is the worst female character. She believes she is above it all because she is a mother. Anna thinks she is better than other women because she was able to steal someone’s husband. She is very nearly able to let Rachel die by Tom to retain her “perfect” family. Anna seriously contemplates this because she doesn’t want the perception of her to change. She actually thinks at one point that she can’t imagine people comparing her to Rachel, to be in the same category of Rachel. Anna is self-centered, egotistical, and a horrible person. 

Overall, I would recommend this book. Let me know what you think!


Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at

My Review of All The Light We Cannot See Part 2

all the light we cannot seeHere is part 2 to my review

This is from the publisher:

1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?

I touched upon this in part 1, but the radio represents how far we “think” we’ve come, but that humans can’t even comprehend how all things in the universe works. We make judgement calls, thinking we are right, and we don’t have all of the information. Who would have thought we could have gone to the moon? Who would have conceived that antibiotics would change the course of human life expectancy? There are things that we cannot see right now, science, spiritually, and socially. If you had asked someone in the 1770’s if we would have had a black president, it would have been scoffed at. There is so much we have yet to see.

2. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?

I think it is the cliche that life is short, don’t waste time with things that don’t matter — lead a good life. This coincides with Naziism. Open your eyes, don’t let hatreds destroy you and so many other lives.

3. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This…is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?

I think it oversimplifies things. Take example death, everyone fears death. Death is powerless to stop, it comes for us all. Is the ultimate fear that death will shine it’s light on you and mark you? Sure. I don’t discount that. This statement is just overly simplistic. Fear can be a many thing. There are worse things than death. Fear of death just might be the strongest until something very, very bad happens to you.

4. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?

I think the frogs in the situation can be the Germans or the French. Either way you look at it. The French could sit there and not resist, and they will slowly die. It can also mean that the Germans can slowly pick away and the Jews, Poland, and anyone else … before anyone realizes that the holocaust has happened.

5. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are…with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?

The person I admired most was Marie-Laure’s father. He always did the right thing no matter what it was. He put his daughter first. He put the museum first. He lived and died a noble, honest, wonderful human being.

6. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?

Blindness here could also mean against the German machine. There are many forms of blindness, not just physical. So many Germans and people around the world closed their eyes to what was going on. No one could have guessed the amount of people who turned a blind eye.

7. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?

I think another way to simplify this is to state when did a character not have an angle? Werner’s was indeed Rumple. Before that, when he doesn’t turn in Marie-Laure is that he personally had an angle. He wanted to know of the people in the house. Rumple was true sacrifice and doing something solely for another.

Fredde was clearly when he poured out the water. He had taken stuff his whole life, because he felt like his life wasn’t his. He went to the school for his mother and father, he sucked it up when the teacher beat him. The water was his stand.

Etienne’s moment was leaving the house to find Marie-Laure. He loved his brother, but fear kept him inside the house. Etienne left for Marie-Laure.

8. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?

It was the house and the inhabitants that were priceless, not the diamond.

9. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others?

The crimes were horrific and countless. To use the theme of light and sight, some of the crimes were not as easily seen. It goes beyond the gas chambers, the soldiers dying, and civilian deaths. The crime of all those lives around the world that would never get lived to their fullest.  Jutta’s life was not the same because of the war, and not just due to the rape. She lost her brother, her sense of self, and her security. She lost her identity. She lost the relationship with her brother. It’s apparent in Volkheimer. He didn’t die, but in a way, he did. He leads a bland and purposefully empty life because of his unconscionable actions. He realizes now, too late, what a horrible person he was. Is there redemption? Maybe. But a lot of the characters, and a lot of the people who are still alive in this world, may not, or should not (depending on how you feel) achieve.


Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?

Jutta? I don’t know what she did. What she represents? Yes. It takes a village, as they say. A better example if Fredde’s mom. Did she outright kill anyone? No. Did she let the German machine work for her? Encourage it? Send her son to be a part of it? Yes.

10. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

I think it added to the story. Much like Age of Innocence, you must follow the characters from beginning to end to really get a sense of their lives, of what living in that time period meant. To simply talk about how connections between people come about, doesn’t make much sense unless you see the progression. To live life through Marie-Laure and Werner is to understand their place in time, their struggles, their desires, the impact of the world around them. That’s how we understand the impact of the events that occurred in their lives. It aids our understanding that there are things we cannot see — like how different the world would be in 2015 as compared to 1945. To fully understand that as Marie-Laure sits on the park bench, the world around her no longer comprehends the time she grew up in. Kids these days do not understand the world of Marie-Laure – the choices, the false assumptions, the reasons for the violence. This occurs time and time again. Vietnam, race relations, and currently gay rights. It’s a theme that is current in our world – the statement is usually noted as wanting to be on the right side of history.

The story is more impactful, the theme is more impactful, when you see it applied from start to finish.


This blog is made possible thanks to this GoDaddy coupon CJSIGLERC. If you want to blog yourself, I highly recommend it, check it out.


Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at

My Review of All The Light We Cannot See part 1

all the light we cannot seeI just finished All The Light We Cannot See.

I give it 5/5 stars. It is the best book I have read in a really, really long time.

Not only was it a great story, but it really makes you think.

These are my thoughts on the book. If you have not read the book, do not read.

I’m going to answer some book questions that have been posted on the internet. Here goes.

(This is part 1. It ended up being longer than I thought, so next week I will post part 2.)

1. First of all, did you like the book overall? Why or why not? Along with that, did you like Doerr’s style of writing?

I loved this book. It has to be one of the best books that I have read in a long, long time. Not only was the story great, but the writing was elegant, intricate, and splendid. The story made me think. It made me want to simultaneously hurry through it to find out what was going to happen, but also to linger on the beauty of each sentence. Some times superfluous writing can be superbly annoying. That was not the case here. 

2. Along with style, how did you feel about the time going back and forth between future and present?

I often find it irritating, here, I found it really moved the story along and gave the reader a chance to absorb everything that was going on, especially in the grander scheme of things. 

3. Favorite character?

That’s a tough call. I’m sure this is cheating … I start to say both Werner and Marie-Laure, but truly, Marie-Laure drives the story. It’s Werner that is most complicated and through so many different characters do we get to observe and relish through his eyes. Werner is my favorite. He is all the light that will never be, the light that could have been, the light that had such a chance to make an impact in the world — extinguished too soon. 

4. What do you think? Do you agree with Madame? Is doing nothing a kind of troublemaking…as good as collaborating?

This has long been debated about WWII. Were those who stood by, and let Naziism take over, were they just as bad? Were they culpable? There are, of course, varying degrees, but yes, almost as bad. I do believe it snowballed to the point in Germany where it was next to impossible to speak out. Those who did were murdered. Yet, in the beginning, oh how things could have been different. 

5. What did you think of the main character being blind? How did this change the story for you?

It makes the reader immediately feel for her. Her light, was of the physical nature. She literally could not see. It’s an important theme of the book. 

6. Is it easy or difficult for you to believe in curses and things of that nature? The supernatural, if you will? More specifically, did you believe that if Werner had had the stone at the end, he might’ve been saved?

I did not believe he would be saved. To me, the diamond represented the theme of things we can not see. We don’t know how or why things are connected. We then try to explain things — through myth. 

7. Was anyone else annoyed by the conversations that happened at the end of the story???

Yes, I wanted more. With all of the extensive writing and prolonged storytelling, it was unsatisfying to not hear the characters explain more. However, I think, perhaps, it was just a writing technique — to make the reader feel unsatisfied like all the lives were in WWII. 

8. What did the title mean to you?

What the title means to me, is everything. 

First, it eludes to the fact that there are so many things out there that we cannot see. The story focuses on the radio. We cannot see radiowaves, we cannot see microwaves. There are whole spectrums of light that we cannot see. We can’t see the internet. In some ways, it is magical (like the diamond). 

So, yes, at the end of the story, when the author states that perhaps, there are souls moving through the world, can we really say for sure that souls are not? In 1945, could one really imagine the internet? Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean that it’s not real.

There are so many things we do not know — so many ways the world is connected …

 … like our characters. The world is connected in ways that we cannot understand. Things happen, time moves forward, one thing effects another — we might not be able to see the reason, if there is any, but yet it occurs, regardless of our understanding of it. 

So why not a God? Why not our loved ones with us, always? 

Maurie-Laure is another example of all the things we cannot see. It’s a theme, like the radiowaves. She is blind — she can’t see anything. The author even states that closing your eyes is still not the same thing as being blind — there is still light to be seen. Werner sees some stuff, in regards to how life is lived, but it is Jutta, and Fredde that really see the way the world works. If there were more of them, people who really saw … perhaps WWII never would have happened. 

How we think that we HAVE to do something. We erroneously see/believe that it is necessary. Like WWII. Germany felt they had to do all of those heinous things. They didn’t. Now, hindsight shows just how blindingly wrong they were.

The book is riddled with examples of doing the wrong thing not seeing that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

Werner throughout his schooling alongside Fredde, is an example of this. 

I also loved the correlation with the physical nature of the concept. Society thought that we could “see” so much with the radio, but there was so much more we could see. First television, then the internet. So much more than just a radio. 

Which coincides with how things become obsolete — like the radio. 

The radio was everything in WWII. FDR fireside chats next to the radio, information being dispersed by people like real-life Etienne’s. People on the front lines communicating via radio positions, asking for ground support … now? Obsolete. 

All that fighting over WWII, for what? Germany is not supreme ruler of the world. However, now it has taken a place next to the US, England, France, and China. All those lives lost. All of it obsolete, unnecessary, and a waste. 

Another theme is the metaphysical nature of all the light we cannot see. Light is a flame. To put the flame out is to extinguish it. To make dark. A life is like light, and so many lives were extinguished. The line in regards to Werner … what he could have been. All that light, all those lives, that we will never see. We will never see the light they could have shined on other humans beings through their love, their kindness, their connections. All the light those individuals could have shined on science, on technology, on literature. All gone. All extinguished because a failed society didn’t see what they were doing was wrong.

Until next week! I’ll be back for part 2!


This blog is made possible thanks to this GoDaddy coupon CJSIGLERC. If you want to blog yourself, I highly recommend it, check it out.


Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at