The Girl on the Train (2015) is a psychological thriller novel by British author Paula Hawkins. The novel debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2015 list (combined print and e-book) dated 1 February 2015, and remained in the top position for 13 consecutive weeks, until April 2015. In January 2016 it became the No.1 best-seller again for two weeks. Many reviews referred to the book as “the next Gone Girl”, referring to a popular 2012 psychological mystery with similar themes and use of unreliable narrators.
By early March 2015, the novel had sold over 1 million copies, and 1.5 million by April. It has occupied the number one spot of the UK hardback book chart for 20 weeks, the longest any book has ever held the top spot. By early August 2015, the book had sold more than 3 million copies in the US alone, and, by October 2016, an estimated 15 million copies worldwide. The audiobook edition, narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher (released by Books on Tape) won the 2016 Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year.
The film rights were acquired by DreamWorks Pictures in 2014 for Marc Platt Productions. The film adaptation, starring Emily Blunt and directed by Tate Taylor, was released on 7 October 2016.
The story is a first-person narrative told from the point of view of three women: Rachel, Anna, and Megan.
Rachel Watson is a 32-year-old alcoholic, reeling from the end of her marriage to Tom, who left her for another woman, Anna Watson. Rachel’s drinking has caused her to lose her job; she frequently binges and has blackouts. While drunk, she often harasses Tom, though she has little or no memory of these acts once she sobers up. Tom is now married to Anna and has a daughter with her, Evie – a situation that fuels Rachel’s self-destructive tendencies, as it was her inability to conceive a child that began her spiral into alcoholism. Rachel follows her old routine of taking the train to London everyday; her train slowly passes her old house, where Tom, Anna, and Evie now live. She also begins watching from the train an attractive couple who live a few houses away from Tom. She idealizes their life, though she has no idea that their life is far from perfect. The wife of the couple, Megan Hipwell, has a troubled past. She finds her life boring, and escapes from her troubles by taking a series of lovers. She has sought help by seeing a therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic. Eventually, she reveals to him a dark secret she has never confided to anyone before.
Anna is young, beautiful, in love with Tom, and happy as a stay-at-home mother to the young Evie. While at first she enjoyed the idea of showing off to Rachel that Tom picked her over Rachel, she eventually becomes furious at Rachel’s harassment of her family. One day, Rachel is stunned to see Megan kissing another man. The next day, after heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to find herself bloody and injured, with no memories of the night before. She learns that Megan is missing, and is questioned by the police after Anna reports having seen her drunkenly staggering around the night of Megan’s disappearance. Rachel becomes interested in the case and tells the police she thinks Megan was having an affair. She then contacts Megan’s husband, Scott and tells him as well, lying that she and Megan were friends. Rachel learns that the man she saw kissing Megan was Kamal.
Rachel contacts Kamal, lying about her identity to get close to him and learn more about him. She makes a therapy appointment with him to see if he can help her recall the events that happened during her blackout that night. While Kamal suspects nothing, Rachel begins to gain insight into her life by speaking with him, inadvertently benefiting from the therapy. Her connections to Scott and Kamal, though built on lies, make her feel more important. She ends up not drinking for several days at a time but always relapses. Meanwhile, she continues to call, visit, and harass Tom. Megan’s body is found; she is revealed to have been pregnant, and her unborn child was fathered by neither Scott nor Kamal. As Scott discovers Rachel’s lies and lashes out at her, her memories become clearer. Rachel remembers seeing Megan get into Tom’s car. Anna discovers that Tom and Megan were having an affair.
Rachel begins trusting her own memories more, and realises that many of the crazy things Tom told her she did while drunk never really happened. He had been gaslighting her for years, which made her question her sanity. Armed with this sad realisation, and the knowledge that he must have been the one who killed Megan, Rachel warns Anna. When Anna confronts him, Tom confesses to murdering Megan after she threatened to reveal that he had gotten her pregnant. Anna is cowed, fearing for her daughter’s safety. Tom tries to beat and intimidate Rachel into keeping silent but she defies him and fights back. Knowing he is about to kill her, Rachel stabs Tom in the neck with a corkscrew. Anna helps Rachel make sure that he dies from the wound. When the police arrive, former adversaries Rachel and Anna support each other by co-ordinating their stories to explain their actions as self-defence.
The Girl on the Train received mostly positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. In 2015 it became the fastest-selling adult hardcover novel in history, and it spent over four months on the New York Times Bestseller List following its release. Kirkus Reviews praised the novel with a starred review, writing that “even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of love and obsession’s inescapable links to violence.” Subsequently, the novel was honoured by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best books of 2015, in the fiction category. The book also won the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award in the category Mystery & Thriller.
In a less positive review for The New York Times, Jean Hanff Korelitz questioned the novel’s narrative structure and criticised the protagonist for behaving “illogically, self-destructively, and narcissistically.”
The Girl on the Train has been compared frequently to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, as both novels employ unreliable narrators and deal with suburban life. Paula Hawkins has waved these comparisons off, however, saying in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter: “Amy Dunne is a psychopath, an incredibly controlling and manipulative, smart, cunning woman. [Rachel is] just a mess who can’t do anything right.”