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The Girl on the Train: My take on the book by Paula Hawkins

I learned about the new best seller everybody's calling the new Gone Girl a few weeks back. After reading the freebie sample of Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train on my Nook, I really wanted to get my hands on an actual hard copy of the page turner, so I could, you know, turn the pages.  But the book was just published January 13th so it's still in hardback and at $23 has been flying off the shelves, selling like hotcakes, number one with a bullet on the New York Times Bestseller List, so I decided to download it to my Nook for just under ten bucks instead. I tore through it; it's hard not to, it's so nail-bitingly good. I wish I had the actual book though, speeding train on the cover and all, hanging around and cluttering up my bedside table to remind me, write it up, write it up, write it up.

Here I am, finally getting around to it. The thing is, it's hard to write this one up; I don't want to ruin a second of the pleasure of your reading it, your nail chewing at the discoveries story moves forward and reveals itself. I always have this trouble with mysteries; not quite knowing what to say and what to keep back.

Let's see, I can safely say it's about a 'girl' (why are we still calling women 'girls'?) who takes the train to and from London everyday, and who sees something from the train window. I can say the book was optioned by DreamWorks almost a year ago, long before its 2015 publication date, for producer Marc Platt to make into a film. I can say that he's already hired a screenwriter to work on the screenplay adaptation: Erin Cressida Wilson. I was hoping with a middle name like "Cressida" she'd be British because I think a writer with a British sensibility is less likely to say they can switch it to the Long Island Rail Road and have Rachel, the main character, taking the train to Manhattan from Long Island and back every day. Er, no thanks! Sadly, she's an American but both her parents were English teachers so hopefully she's got that built-in love and respect for the written word. Even when the written word isn't exactly Shakespeare, because while it's not literature with a capital L, it's very, very good, and as scary and unstoppable as a speeding train. 

You may have heard The Girl on the Train is a story with a marital problem or two, along with an 'unreliable' narrator. In truth, we have three narrators, Rachel, Megan and Anna. Reliable? Unreliable? That all depends on your point of view. And point of view is definitely much of the fun of this book.

First, Rachel. She is the girl in The Girl on the Train, an alcoholic divorcee who takes the train into the city everyday, mesmerized by the small strip of homes that back the train tracks as she passes. As an old realtor like me can tell you, property that backs the train tracks looks a whole lot more desirable from the train, than it does from the backyard of those homes, the train whistle sounding day in, day out. Still, Rachel romanticizes the view from the train, and can't take her eyes off one attractive looking couple who spend a fair amount of time on their deck.
"They are a perfect,golden couple. He is dark-haired and well built, strong, protective, kind. He has a great laugh. She is one of those tiny bird-women, a beauty, pale-skinned with blond hair cropped short. She has the bone structure to carry that kind of thing off, sharp cheekbones dappled with a sprinkling of freckles, a fine jaw." 
p. 11
Rachel, lonely and self-loathing, even fantasizes about the male member of the golden couple —
"I can imagine the feel of his hands, the weight of them, reassuring and protective. Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the last time I had meaningful physical contact with another person, just a hug or a heartfelt squeeze of my hand, and my heart twitches."
Reliable/Unreliable? She's an alcoholic, hiding her drinking, constantly going off and on the wagon. She was as frustrating to me as a couple of alcoholics I've known in my own life, making futile promises they're not ready to keep. How can you take anything they seriously? Does she invent, misremember? It really is difficult to take her point of view at face value. Unreliable at best, I still found myself rooting for her, wanting to shake her, stop her from doing what I could see she was about to do.

Megan, the perfect blonde woman Rachel sees from the train is not exactly the woman Rachel imagines her to be.  Not beneath the surface. The Megan we meet, one year earlier, is much less satisfied with the life she's living than Rachel imagines. In fact they're not all that different. Megan indulges in fantasy and wishful thinking too, pretending she's living in a pretty house in the Cinque Terre—which must also rattle as the train whistles past—and not here in this suburban strip of homes. She's married yes, but she's adrift, unemployed, unsatisfied—she is, in fact, seeing a shrink.
"My days feel empty now I don't have the gallery to go to any longer. I really miss it. I miss talking to the artists. I even miss dealing with all those tedious yummy mummies who used to drop by, Starbucks in hand, to gawk at the pictures, telling their friends that little Jessie did better pictures than that in nursery school."
p. 23

Lastly there is Anna who we hear a lot about from both Rachel and Megan, but don't hear anything from until we're a third of the way through the novel. Anna used to be a real estate agent (me too!) but now she's a seemingly happily married stay-at-home mother to an adorable baby girl. She lives in the same strip of homes back the tracks.
"On days like today, with the sun shining, when you walk down our little street—tree-lined and tidy, not quite a cu-de-sac, but with the same sense of community—it could be perfect. Its pavements are busy with mothers just like me, with dogs on leads and toddlers on scooters. It could be ideal. It could be, if you weren't able to hear the screeching brakes of the trains."
p. 100

Three women, all about the same age—late twenties, early thirties—living (trapped?) in suburbia. Three intersecting stories and it all begins with Rachel.  When Rachel sees what she sees from the train window, we follow her muddied thinking, her cloudy vision to find out the truth. I couldn't stop reading, it was like a magnet just kept me attached to the page, pulling me along and along. I'm not going to tell you any more. It really is too good of a read.

I'm already thinking about the casting.
Rachel, the drinker, once a dark haired beauty is called 'fat', bloated from drink and her depressive personality. I doubt she's fat in any truly obese way, but she sees herself that way. She's probably 10 or possibly 20 pounds overweight, out of control and unhappy. Someone like Martine McCutcheon who played Natalie in Love Actually, except not as ebullient and comfortable in her own skin!

Megan and Anna are both pretty, petite blondes. Carey Mulligan, Joanne Froggat, Emilia Clarke come to mind.

Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) seen here as Lexie in The Secret BBC television series

Carey Mulligan in Drive

As for the men
Rachel tells us that Megan's husband is
"handsome in a British film star kind of way, not a Depp or a Pitt, but a Firth, or a Jason Isaacs."

Thanks for doing the work for us Rachel! Is Colin Firth too old?  NEVER! But if you disagree, then who would you put in his place?

And Megan tells us Anna's husband 'flashes his Tom Cruise smile.' So why not Tom Cruise? Did you see him opposite Emily Blunt in The Edge of Tomorrow? He was fantastic, as was the film! Too old? Again I say, who would you pick? Chris Hemsworth? Chris Pines?

Then there's Megan's yummy shrink —
"His name is Dr. Kamal Abdic. I guess he must be midthirties, although he looks very young with his incredible dark honey skin."
No question about this one. That sounds like Sendhil Ramamurthy from the television series Beauty and the Beast to me!

Have you read the book yet? Who would you cast as The Girl on the Train?