Rachel is a "barren, divorced, soon-to-be-homeless alcoholic" 30-something who exists on the periphery of life since the breakup of her marriage to Tom. For two years, she's been cut off from the world. Suffering from a complete lack of self-worth, she pines for and stalks her ex, who lives with his new family in the same house Rachel and Tom occupied in Witney, a suburb of London. Every day, Rachel steps from her rented flat and boards the suburban commuter train; riding the rails offers Rachel comfort and purpose, especially when the train rolls past her old neighborhood twice a day and she's offered a momentary glimpse into other lives. From the train, she begins to fixate on a couple she often sees who reside four houses away from Tom's house. She names the pair Jess and Jason and idealizes them: "They're what I used to be.... They're what I lost, they're everything I want to be."
One day, as the train passes the house, Rachel spies Jess kissing a strange man in her backyard. This discovery shatters Rachel's illusions about the "happy" couple, driving her to binge drink to the point of blacking out. The next day, when the news reports Jess--whose real name is Megan--is missing, Rachel vaguely recalls having exited the train in her old neighborhood on the night of the disappearance, and she subsequently convinces herself that she may be involved. Unfortunately, Rachel can't remember much else--including where and how she received cuts on her hand. These questions, along with others, suddenly propel Rachel out of her quiet, vicarious existence. She is determined to reconstruct the night in question and solve the mystery, and soon becomes entangled in the police investigation.
Paula Hawkins fashions The Girl on the Train, her intricate, multilayered psychological suspense debut, from a staggered timeline and three distinct female narrators. Rachel, who is unabashed in her darker instincts, anchors the narrative. Readers will fear, pity, sympathize and root for her, though she's not always understandable or trustworthy. Hawkins fills in the missing pieces of Rachel's unreliable memory via flashbacks and passages narrated by the missing woman, whose life isn't nearly as perfect as Rachel had conceived, and Anna, Tom's new wife, who feels insecure and threatened by Rachel's harassing presence. En route to a terrorizing and twisted conclusion, all three women--and the men with whom they share their lives--are forced to dismantle their delusions about others and themselves, their choices and their respective relationships. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Shelf Talker: A jilted, single, alcoholic woman becomes entangled in a missing persons case while trying to get her life back on track.