Every morning as her commuter train stops at the same signals, Rachel looks at the houses with gardens backing onto the tracks, and makes up lives for the people who live there, specifically one couple that she names "Jess and Jason", for whom she dreams up an idyllic life, full of love and happiness, as far from her own solitary existence as possible. Then one day Rachel sees something which makes her realise that they and their lives are not so perfect after all - and when 'Jess' goes missing shortly afterwards, Rachel feels compelled to share what she knows with the police. Is she really trying to help, or just muscle in on someone else's life and gain attention?
The Girl on the Train is a wonderfully gripping psychological thriller, in which no one is quite as they appear to be; they all hide secrets of varying degrees, from the petty to the complete game-changer - and it's very difficult to write about without giving them away.
It's told mainly from the point of view of Rachel - a depressed, divorced alcoholic and the most unreliable narrator ever. She doesn't deliberately withhold pertinent facts - it's just that after a night out drinking, she can't remember a thing. She wakes with cuts and bruises, and no recollection of how she came by them! She'll believe almost anything she's told about the missing time and such huge blank spots are just waiting for someone to exploit them.
Interspersed with Rachel's narrative is that of 'Jess', or Megan as her real name is, telling her story from a year before and so leading up to the point of her disappearance, and Anna, the lover of Rachel's ex-husband, now his second wife. Rachel's and Anna's accounts frequently overlap, seeing the same scene played out from different angles; sometimes Rachel's version seemed more credible, sometimes Anna's - and sometimes both were being deliberately misled by their 'shared' husband.
As a main character, Rachel is someone you'll either sympathise with or hate - and the author seems to hang back, making no judgements herself but leaving it to the reader to decide. Is Rachel in her desperation to help, merely interfering to grab a bit of the limelight, or does she truly feel she has something to contribute and is trying to regain some of her own self-worth? I rather liked her - yes, she's got some flaws -huge ones- but overall I felt on 'her side'.
Many page-turning thrillers leave me by the end feeling that they've given up all their secrets. I don't think this has. With its triple story-lines, I'm sure I've missed at least a couple of hints and clues along the way, especially in Jess/Megan's account set in the previous year, so I'm definitely looking forward to a re-read.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - DoubledayGenre- adult psychological thriller