Novel Idea: The Girl on the Train

When you can’t trust your narrators, who can you trust?


Hailey Ardell, Columnist

In a mystery novel, the reader usually has to trust the word of the narrator as gospel. For example, if a narrator states that the purple jacket belongs to a certain character, they generally are not questioned about the validity of such a statement, even if the jacket actually belongs to someone else, or is really blue, or doesn’t even exist at all. This blind faith in the honesty or the accuracy of the person telling the story becomes somewhat dangerous when dealing with an unreliable narrator. Or in the case of The Girl on the Train, three unreliable narrators.

Paula Hawkins opens her novel from the perspective of Rachel, a seemingly ordinary woman on her morning train commute with a much more complicated life than meets the eye. She’s been divorced two years from a husband who cheated on her and has since married his mistress. Rachel drinks heavily to get over her emotional pain and as a result, cannot always be counted on to relay events accurately to the reader.

On the train to and from the city, Rachel often sees a couple in their home near the train tracks and romanticizes her imaginings of their daily lives. To her, the couple represents the domestic happiness that she had failed to achieve in her own marriage. However, as the point of view later shifts to the wife in this seemingly idyllic relationship, readers are granted insider access to the couple’s lives and are able to see through the cracks in the their facades.

As the novel progresses, the narrative is told from three perspectives in total, with Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife joining the fray with her own ideas and misconceptions. From the experiences and recollections of each of these narrators, readers are brought along right in the thick of a murder investigation where everyone’s a potential suspect. Each of these women have complex lives and force the reader to look beyond first appearances as none of these narrators are quite what meets the eye.

Paula Hawkins displays true mastery of developing her novel that is equal parts mystery and thriller. And as the winner of’s Best Mystery & Thriller of 2015 award, a user-voted honor, it is clear to see that many readers have been drawn into the drama and action of the narrative as well. The usage of unreliable narration keeps the reader on their toes as they must determine what is true or false as more details gradually come to light. This alone would make the novel a fascinating read, but in combination with the murder mystery plot in which nearly everyone seems to have a motive and no one knows all the facts for sure, this story really shines. It’s a book that you won’t want to put down once you’ve started and will leave you wanting more when it’s finished. I would recommend The Girl on the Train to anyone that enjoys mysteries and thrillers presented in a complex yet ultimately realistic light.