Last Friday, I met with my lovely book club for the very first time to chat about Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train. We had a great discussion about how the story unfolded, which characters we liked and couldn’t stand, and even shared some (often outlandish) alternate endings and plot line theories. It was good times! At some point in the evening, we also took a moment to give our book club an official title. We got pretty creative, I won’t lie. Right now, we’re rolling with “It’s Literally a Book Club”. So much love for my friends.
If you and your book club are currently reading The Girl On The Train or plan to read it in the next few months, Penguin Books USA has an excellent discussion guide. You can follow the guide to the letter or use it as a jumping-off point. We had so many opinions and thoughts to share that we didn’t really use the guide but I found the questions helpful for keeping the discussion on track.
Here are our thoughts:
- Hawkins’ main character Rachel is an unreliable narrator – she has memory issues, alcohol dependency issues, peeping-tom issues, self-esteem issues…the list goes on. For some of us, this created confusion – the timeline jumps around a lot and there are big chunks of time missing from Rachel’s narration, leaving us wondering what the heck she is doing during those blank afternoons. For the rest of us, we found that Rachel’s unreliability was a clever writing tactic. Hawkins didn’t have to explain everything and pieces to the puzzle were deliberately missing – our job as readers was to fill in those holes with assumptions and theories. This dynamic made for an interesting read and kept a lot of us guessing throughout the entire book.
- Some of us saw the ending coming from a mile away (mainly, me). I don’t know why, but I thought that this was a pretty predictable whodunit and even though Hawkins throws a few red herrings at us to keep us in the dark about what really happened, I rarely strayed from my hypothesis about ‘misogyny man’ (you’ll know who I mean). However, a few of us had entirely different expectations about this book’s outcome…
- RIFF OFF: Multiple Personality Disorder Theory. Miranda and Whitney totally thought that all three female narrators – Rachel, Anna, and Megan – were, in fact, one person. Brilliant! This theory by far led our discussion because it had the rest of us reeling. It was a plot line none of the rest of us considered! Honestly, by the end of the night, we all thought that a multiple personality disorder twist would have made for a better story – sorry, Paula!
- While Rachel’s unreliability as a narrator is effective, one thing that a few of us found upsetting was her alcoholism and how the disease was portrayed in the book. However, we all realized that while something may be upsetting, that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or true or important to examine. Alcoholism, to many people, is sad, destructive, pathetic, weak…and those aren’t qualities we typically like to associate with our protagonists. We like heroes and Rachel doesn’t seem like much of one. In fact, sometimes we suspect her to be the story’s villain. Rachel does begin to pull through and find purpose though. The minute she starts seeing a shrink (albeit for ulterior motives), you start getting the sense that this woman will get better – and I think that she does.
- Another thing we noticed: fat shaming. I’m not sure if it’s a UK-cultural thing but the way Hawkins describes Rachel and puts her down really turned a few of us off. This could have been another tactic used by Hawkins to illustrate how defeated Rachel is, but the association of a certain weight with failure and weakness was straight up rude. We didn’t like it. Another interesting thing: a few of us couldn’t imagine Rachel (Kaeri and I still can’t picture her face!) and this made her hard to identify with.
- HOLY MOM ISSUES BATMAN. The underlying tension throughout the book is motherhood and how it defines women. Rachel’s life fell apart because she couldn’t be a mom, Megan’s life fell apart when she became a mom and then had crazy shit happen to her (I’m not exaggerating!), and Anna’s life got better after the birth of her daughter (she found fulfilment). It’s fascinating how Hawkins developed her characters around motherhood in such diverse ways.
The character we liked the most: Megan
The scene that shocked us the most: toss up between the Rachel-Scott fling or Megan’s baby backstory
What we wanted more of: more Rachel + Anna teamwork
At the end of the night, we sat in our little circle and raised our hands in a vote to rate this book. We settled on giving this book 3/5 stars. It certainly was a page-turner (you will want to find out what happens!). Next up, we’ll be reading Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, another thrilling whodunit mystery. I can’t wait to dive into this one. In all, we had a great time reading and then discussing The Girl On The Train.
One comment I heard a few times during the evening had me positively glowing: a few of my girlfriends confessed to not reading very much any more and were so glad to have a reason to read again. They all expressed how much this experience made them realize how much they enjoyed and missed reading – follow their lead: start a new book and (re)discover your love of reading this weekend!
PS: If you are a fan of Game of Thrones and watched the premier of season 5 last weekend, check out this fantastic analysis: http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/game-of-thrones-season-5-episode-1-recap-the-wars-to-come/