I admit I bought in to the hype around The Girl on the Train. I heard about it three times in two days and couldn’t resist the summer blockbuster appeal. I bought in to the point of buying the book (something I rarely do what with the existence of libraries and the scarcity of free money), though I got it for $10 as a ‘Heather’s Pick’ at Chapters (my local and fantastic bookshop was sold out and I had to have it Right Now). I’m embarrassed by the whole thing. (Would I be as embarrassed if it had been a better book? Or if J. hadn’t warned me that it wasn’t as great as people were saying?).
I’m embarrassed with myself for buying in (and buying it), sure, but I’m embarrassed for the rest of the world that has some mistaken idea that this is a book worth telling other people to read (I was tempted to say ‘a book worth reading’ but then I reconsidered: read whatever you like).
On what grounds is the book being recommended? It’s a (supposedly) suspenseful story of an unemployed, alcoholic, woman (Rachel) made mentally unstable because she couldn’t get pregnant and because her ex-husband left her for a younger woman. Yep. We don’t need feminism at all folks. We follow this woman, our ‘unreliable’ protagonist as the murder of a young, white, beautiful, pregnant woman (our ‘classic victim’) is investigated. I suspect – like the sleuth I am – that we’re supposed to be enamoured by the book because we’re meant to think Rachel is the murderer and she’s also the narrator. Or something. But I couldn’t get past the horrific representation of women in the novel long enough to focus on anything like what little might be recommended here in terms of plot development or characterization.
If you were going to look past the sexist bullshit you’d find a plot that is as monotonous as any train travel: Rachel gets on and off the train, Rachel gets drunk, Rachel wonders whether she’ll ever remember what she did when she blacked out. Over and over. Interspersed with some bits from perspectives of our dead woman before she died (nothing so interesting as narration in The Lovely Bones– more murdered white women), and the new wife (Anna) of Rachel’s ex (big shock, Anna is also hysterical, jealous and utterly dependent on her husband to give her any sense of identity). Are we supposed to be impressed by these other bits of narration? I don’t know. I guess it’s all meant to get us puzzling over who committed the crime. Which, when revealed, is neither surprising, nor interesting.
Some people recommending this book seem excited because it reminds them of Gone Girl. And they are similar. Both see women as either hysterical and dependent on men for mental/emotional/financial stability or manipulative and maniacal baby-killers. And both are so. terrible.
You might have enjoyed The Girl on the Train. If you did, I’m glad you had an enjoyable reading experience. You might be thinking about reading The Girl on the Train. If you are, I’d urge you to read anything else. Try something with a complex and fierce lady-represented protagonist (like Americanah, A Tale for the Time Being, The Secret Life of Violet Grace, An Unnecessary Woman, The Diviners) and be reminded such books exist and are popular. If you weren’t think about reading The Girl on the Train, great! Our work is done.
Now help me cleanse my pallet: tell me your favourite book with a kick-ass protagonist that complicates or refuses the idea of women as simpering, hapless and helpless, hysterics.