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 Amazon.com, 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 atmadelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com