I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now, as I’d heard and read a lot about it. I was really surprised at the array of emotions I felt when reading this novel: anger, confusion, surprise, shock etc. I was completely hooked, and it’s one of those novels that’s incredibly difficult to put down.
The novel follows the lives of three, somewhat unreliable women, Rachel, Anna and Megan. It begins with Rachel. She gets the same train every day, to commute to and from London for work (or so she says). Whilst looking out the windows, Rachel people watches, conjuring up a perfect fantasy life for a couple whom she is particularly interested in. She names them Jess and Jason. The train stops outside the back of their house each morning.
The location of this house is significant, as, Rachel used to live on this street before. However, her marriage failed, she couldn’t get pregnant, she started to drink heavily and her husband Tom cheated on her and divorced her. Her life, is somewhat of a train wreck.
“When did you become so weak?” I don’t know. I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.”
The illusion of the perfect fantasy life of Jess and Jason that Rachel created couldn’t be further from the truth. On one of her daily commutes to pretend to go to work, she notices Jess kissing a man that isn’t her husband. A few days later, Jess disappears. The true identity of the couple are revealed: Jess and Jason are actually Megan and Scott. Rachel spends days scanning newspapers, obsessing over the details of Megan’s disappearance. Noticing that nothing is mentioned about her affair, Rachel decides to contact Scott and inform him of what she knows.
Together, Rachel and Scott reveal the mans identity: Dr. Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist. The case gathers pace as he’s called in for questioning by the police, but falls flat. Rachel still obsesses about him, so she books an appointment to see if he can help with her drinking, and significant memory loss.
“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”
Rachel, struggling and obsessing with her own personal problems, her drinking, knows she was in the neighbourhood the night Megan went missing. But, because she was drunk, she blacked out and doesn’t remember anything else. The only image coming to mind is the underpass. Rachel’s roommate, Cathy, disapproves of her drinking, but tries to be a good friend to her. Cathy soon realises that Rachel lost her job months ago, and feels resentment at Rachel wasting time and money on the train ride rather than finding a job.
Why was she in the area? She doesn’t know, meaning we as readers also can’t know. We can assume. Obsessed with her ex husband, his new wife and baby much?
Some time later, Rachel finally remembers something bad happening in the underpass. Although she can’t quite remember what it was, she can remember her ex Tom, and his new wife Anna, being there. Rachel spends a lot of time in the book obsessing over her marriage, over Tom and Anna. Rachel constantly calls Tom, leaves notes. Anna wants her to go away and leave them alone. The strange thing is, Anna is living in the martial home, where not much has changed in terms of its furniture. What links Anna and Megan together? She baby sat for her and Tom. (A twist that develops later!)
“One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl . . . Three for a girl. I’m stuck on three, I just can’t get any further. My head is thick with sounds, my mouth thick with blood. Three for a girl. I can hear the magpies—they’re laughing, mocking me, a raucous cackling. A tiding. Bad tidings. I can see them now, black against the sun. Not the birds, something else. Someone’s coming. Someone is speaking to me. Now look. Now look what you made me do.”
When Megan’s body, or what’s left of it, is discovered buried in the woods, Scott and Rachel have a brief one night stand. Rachel insists she’s being supportive and wants to help. To an outsider, it’s strange behaviour. Especially when Scott has been treated as a suspect. Anna informs the police that Rachel is a creepy, obsessed stalker. Once Scott gets wind of this, he too gets drunk, angry and violent towards Rachel. Scott locks her in the room. Is this the anger of a murderer?
Rachel is still desperate to answer the questions clouding her mind. She bumps into a red haired man on the train who remembers Rachel from the night of Megan’s disappearance. By talking to him, Rachel is able to piece together more details of that night. Importantly, Tom wasn’t with Anna that evening. He was with Megan.
Whilst Rachel is suspicious of Tom, Anna too stumbles into a problem. She finds a secret phone in Tom’s gym bag. The pre-paid mobile turns out to be Megan’s. Why would Tom have this? Rather coincidentally, Rachel turns up trying to convince Anna that it was Tom who murdered Megan. Unfortunately for Rachel, Anna is unable to put her dislike for Rachel aside to leave with her. So, the evidence against Tom mounts.
“I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose.”
Hawkins, to increase the tension further, flashbacks the narration to the night Megan revealed to Scott that she had had an affair. Her therapist has advised her to come clean, and had given her a friendly kiss after their talk. That’s the kiss that Rachel saw, and misinterpreted. Scott doesn’t take this news too well, assaults Megan, and she leaves running towards her lover, Tom.
Tom comes home, surprised to see his wife and ex wife in the same room together. It doesn’t take long before Tom reveals everything that happened: he was having an affair with Megan and she was pregnant. Tom demanded she have an abortion, not realising Megan in the past lost a baby accidentally when she fell asleep in the bath. Megan reacted badly at the abortion demand, and started screaming claiming she would reveal their affair. Tom had to shut her up.
After the confession, Rachel runs from Tom, but he attacks her. She stabs him in the neck with a corkscrew she took from the kitchen. Anna, clearly angry that Tom lied to her, finishes the job by twisting the corkscrew deeper.
Tom dies. His lies are exposed. Everyone knows him for what he is. Anna and Rachel, ultimately become a team. The novel ends with Rachel taking the train.
“So who do I want to be tomorrow?”
The great strength of this novel is the fact that the characters all have their own traits that we as readers will naturally hate. Rachel’s drinking causes her own frustration, yet she doesn’t stop. Anna plays the good wife, but why move straight into the marital home of the ex? It’s just a bit weird.
This novel is compelling, gripping and full of suspense. When stripped back, the plot comes from ultimately looking out of the window on a train. Millions of people do that every day. It’s clever to take something we all do, and manipulate it to turn it into something sinister as part of a wider plot. A brilliant read.
Big love x