I recently read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and it blew me away. It is a psychological thriller like no other I've read. The novel is written in first person, from the perspective of three women. The main character, Rachel – the definition of a hot mess – is sinking into a pit of alcoholism and it's not pretty. The reader is not spared the gory details, but none of it is really gratuitous. Rachel is wallowing in depression from her broken marriage, with her ex-husband living in what was their house, now with his new wife and their child. She idealizes another couple a few houses away and she tortures herself daily by passing the houses while riding on a train. Ostensibly, she is going to work, however she had actually lost her job months ago... because she was drinking at lunch... and was drunk at work. We experience the black-outs, and the vaguely remembered parts of them. We watch her make bad decisions about involving herself in the case of a missing woman.
Through Megan's chapters we witness another sort of mess – a woman who is addicted to thrill-seeking. And, through Anna we see a more stable woman who is struggling with the banalities of being a stay-at-home mom after having an exciting real estate career. (I will grant you that she is also struggling with her husband's ex-wife who cannot stop calling.)
Criticism that I have read about the novel is that it was predictable. Be that as it may, it is extremely well-written. I have not experienced such a powerful novel before. The author held nothing back. We, the readers, truly experienced the story from Rachel's point of view, mostly things she remembered after waking up from a blinding drunken binge, sometimes with inexplicable blood and bruises. True, there are two other narrators, but they are there mostly to complement Rachel's story.
I watched the movie the other evening. I was both excited about it and wary, because most critiques I had read or heard from people who had read the novel were not very good. I love books, but I am not among those who feel that the novel is always better as a blanket rule. Novels can do things that movies can't, but cinematography can do things that novels cannot. More than anything, I was wondering how they would make a movie out of a novel that was mostly in the mind of an (unreliable) narrator.
The extreme use of close-ups seems to allude to the novel's use of an intense first-person POV. (I only saw the movie once, but I have a feeling that the close-ups would bother me if I saw the movie multiple times.) Overall, the movie's intensity matches that of the book. The main difference is that the movie is under 2 hours long, so they are not able to build up as much of it as the novel did.
I had to ask a friend who saw it with me if he understood what was going on – after the movie was over. It all seemed to be happening so fast; I doubted that somebody who hadn't read the novel would have been able to keep up, or understand the more subtle points. I think that the people who made the movie recognized this limitation and used a disorienting back-and-forth-in-time technique to relate Rachel's loss of time when she blacked out. Again, the novel had much more time to develop this feeling, but the movie did a good job. (My friend's only answer was that he couldn't distinguish between Megan and Anna at first. Both of them are blond, thin and beautiful. Other than that, he said, he kept up.)
The characters in the movie were spot on. They portrayed the author's characters perfectly and I recognized them all immediately. The only possible issue was that we didn't get to FEEL Rachael's slow, slow, slow realization of what had been going on. We got a taste of it, but in the novel it was much more drawn out (and delicious) because the author had time to do it. This is a novel that could have been a mini-series rather than a movie. I think that format would have actually been better, though it probably would not have earned Hawkins as much $$$.
It took a while for me to figure out that, while the novel is set in a suburb of London, the movie is set outside of New York City, presumably Manhattan. Rachael does have an accent, so I thought it was just clumsy that other characters didn't, until I realized that NONE of the other characters had accents. This, and a couple of other liberties taken, really didn't affect the story itself. It was just a little confusing for me for a while. I'm from Texas, so it's always interesting for me to read about places where taking trains to work is commonplace. That in an of itself is germane to the plot, but it's just as common in NYC as it is in London, I suppose.
If you did or did not read the book, I would recommend this movie. If you haven't read the book, I would recommend you read it first. You can't unknow the ending or the plot twists that lead to it, and even if you're able to figure out the ending within the first few chapters, Hawkins does a brilliant job of presenting it. If you enjoy thrillers, you owe it to yourself to read this one. (I'm telling this to the three people left in the US who haven't yet read it.)