Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Photography by Stewart Black found in Flickr.com

Photography by Stewart Black found in Flickr.com

I have spent a good part of the summer catching up on my reading wish list since the master’s I just finished gave me little time for “recreational reading.” Yesterday, while I was searching for a novel, I came across Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first found it on Amazon’s best seller list. The summary wasn’t captivating enough to pull me into it. It was rather a review I read that made me give it a chance. One reader compared it to Gone Girl, and I was intrigued to find out why.

At the beginning, the story is told through the eyes of Rachel. Rachel is a recently divorced woman who is dealing with her world crumbling down mixed in with alcoholism, unemployment and loneliness. Every morning she makes a useless commute to London, and on her way she is captivated by two houses in one of the towns the train stops in. Every morning Rachel sees a couple who lives two doors down from where she used to live before her world collapsed. Every morning she observes this couple and creates a story in her head of how their lives must be, their names and even their jobs. However, on one of those days that Rachel observes them, she sees the woman with another man. The day after, this woman goes missing. Rachel holds on to this crucial piece of information in order to help find this mysterious woman that has gone missing as well as to save her husband from being blamed for her disappearance.

As the story progresses the reader hears more from two other characters, Megan and Anna. We see what Megan was going through before she was missing, as well as Anna’s life as Rachel meddles into her life and that of her husband Tom, Rachel’s ex husband. The story is as mixed as it sounds: everyone’s lives are connected in the way you least expect. People’s assumptions of what is happening have a great effect on the story plot and it isn’t until the very end that we can somewhat understand it all.

The story line of The Girl on the Train is very interesting and relatable. Although Rachel’s destructive behaviour creates a bit of frustration because it is this behaviour that continues to get her in trouble, her sadness and loneliness are very much relatable. Who hasn’t felt at the bottom of the world after a terrible break up? Hawkins manages to keep us on our toes throughout the entire novel as we try to figure out what happened to Megan and who is responsible.

A deeper issue that makes The Girl on the Train not only a great novel but one of extreme relevance is its closeness to women’s issues such as domestic abuse, depression and having children. While these issues are not solely female issues, Hawkins presents them in the lives of three very different women. The pressures of becoming a mother affect Rachel, Megan and Anna in very different ways as well. In these characters, we can appreciate different ways of dealing, of surviving and of making peace.

In short, I am very glad I found The Girl on the Train yesterday. I read that Dreamworks purchased the rights for this movie. While I am a firm book-nerd that believes the book is ALWAYS better than the movie, I am curious to see the adaptation of this novel.

What are your thoughts on The Girl on the Train?

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Second Class Personality?

I recently read Susan Cain’s book titled Quiet after hearing reviews saying that all introverts should read it. After reading it, I did find it very enlightening in some aspects of my personality (I already knew I was an introvert). Cain defines an introverted person as someone who is drawn to inner worlds, who focuses on meanings of events, who work slowly, who listen more than they talk. She makes distinctions between introverts and extroverts, and why certain social customs bother introverts. I, personally, hate small talk. I don’t know how to do it, nor do I see the point in it. If we are going to talk, I want to really know about you, not your opinion of the weather and gossip from work. Cain says that this is because introverts tend to think in more complicated ways, and therefore small talk isn’t interesting.

Cain also calls out that our society has labeled introverts as a second class personality trait, something unwanted and that will limit your success. She describes the program at the Harvard Business School, and how, since early on, students are forced to socialize, to interact, to be extroverts, just like in the business world. For those who are extroverts, this isn’t too hard, but those who aren’t find themselves in unwanted situations. Although Cain makes an excellent case for the advantages of having introverts in the business world (slower and more rationalized thinking, for example), I am of the opinion that certain fields need certain personalities.

Like I said, I am an introvert who hates small talks and speaking in public. However, I love teaching, and consider myself to be a good teacher. I had to work with my introvert personality to be able to work with my students. If I didn’t work with my introvert personality, I would end up a very knowledgeable (hopefully) teacher with no tools to share with my students, much like the stereotype of a brilliant college professor that gives the most boring lectures to the board and not to the students. As an introvert teacher, I was able to enjoy the extroverted personality of my students, and understand the introverted personality of others. I gave introverted students their space and time, and supported them as they came out of their shell. I pushed myself to develop a workable introverted personality, where I can be outspoken in certain situations and sit back and listen in others.

The personality descriptions and situations in which both personality types have to interact put a lot of things into perspective. One such section was being an introverted parent to an extroverted child. Both my boyfriend and I are introverts, however, this is no guarantee that our children will be. I have also noticed that a lot of my friendships are with extroverted people. Personally, I enjoy their personalities and I enjoy hearing their stories. I also enjoy, after some time with them, to retreat to a quieter place and breathe.

The latter part of the book became much more of a “self-help book” which I must admit I was disappointed with. I am not a fan of self-help books; I was looking for a mere analysis of introverts so that I can do my own self-help. I know this is a very personal opinion, and many people will find the book as a whole very helpful. Overall Quiet is a great read about introverted personalities, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.