Paula Hawkins' thriller The Girl on the Train has become perhaps the most successful book in roughly the same vein as Gillian Flynn's bestseller Gone Girl. (Perhaps I should have called my last book The Girl from the Dungeon House). It's an example of domestic suspense, an update of the woman-in-jeopardy type of novel that has been around for many years, but which has in recent times had a fresh lease of life.
Hawkins' book, like Flynn's, features unreliable narrators, and marriages tested to destruction. Like Flynn, she uses first person narratives cunningly; they give the story immediacy (even though some of the sections are set before the crucial sequence of events begins) and they conceal as much as they reveal. These are powerful techniques if used well, and I feel that Hawkins handles the material expertly. I was not surprised to learn that, although this is the first Hawkins novel, she has previously published fiction under a pen-name as she learned her craft. There is something highly professional about the storytelling.
The principal narrator (there are three in all) is Rachel, an alcoholic who becomes obsessed with the lives of a seemingly happy couple whose house is on her train route. Hawkins has acknowledged her debt to Rear Window (the film, perhaps, rather than Cornell Woolrich's excellent novella) and is evidently an Alfred Hitchcock fan, but makes inventive use of the idea of a voyeur watching a crime scene. Rachel behaves crazily, involving herself in lives that are no business of hers, with dangerous results. It's all very gripping.
An interesting feature of the book is that there are only six main characters, three men and three women. Suffice to say that none of them is likeable, and if you prefer your novels to have at least one character you can love, you may not find this book to your taste. Yet Hawkins has argued that there is something appealing about Rachel, and I certainly found myself wanting to know what fate she would meet. Gone Girl set a high standard for domestic suspense novels, but Hawkins' book is a worthy example of the form, and deserves its success..