The Book Group and Paula Hawkins’s Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train (Doubleday 2015)

gott.jpgBefore the meeting:
After A Little Life, the book group decided to take on something light, and someone had heard that The Girl on the Train was an interesting thriller.

I’m not a member of this book’s target audience. I’ve been mildly gripped by psychological thriller movies (Gone Girl say, or any number of Hitchcock movies, or Gaslight, though I haven’t seen that movie, just the play performed by the Innisfail Repertory Society in about 1960) or on TV (I think of The Fall). Men are strong, sympathetic and protective, or are they dangerous and manipulative? Women sense they are in danger, or are they just neurotic messes? A loving husband is caught in a lie about talking to his ex-wife. Should we be disturbed by what happens next:

He smiles at me, shaking his head as he steps towards me, his hands still raised in supplication. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. She wanted to chat in person and I thought it might be best. I’m sorry, OK? We just talked. We met in a crappy coffee shop in Ashbury and talked for twenty minutes – half an hour, tops. OK?’
___He puts his arms around me and pulls me towards his chest. I try to resist him, but he’s stronger than me and anyway he smells great and I don’t want a fight. I want us to be on the same side. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbles again, into my hair.
___‘It’s all right,’ I say.

Even on screen these imagined relationships as full of manipulation and lurking threat aren’t my cup of tea. In book form, if this one is any indication, it’s a game a good bit less interesting than Scrabble. I did read the whole book, I suppose it was well done, and I stayed guessing, or at least unsure, until the final revelation, but I didn’t really care, and the main impression I’m left with is of time wasted. Your mileage may vary. The movie is coming out in a month or two – I’ll probably give it a miss.

At the meeting: There were eight of us and everyone had read the whole book, one or two saying that they couldn’t put it down. And while people generally appreciated its tight plotting, and the way information was gradually released to the reader, no one particularly liked it. Those who are more widely read in the genre said it wasn’t a particularly good example. We compared notes on how soon we guessed the ending.

And over chicken and rice and then ice cream we had a terrific conversation about fathers and sons, how boys and young men could do with someone thinking about them in more constructive ways than generally seems to happen these days, about Eton and Queen Victoria’s correspondence, about whether A Little Life is a bildungsroman, about cumquat marmalade, renovations, and the joys of growing old.

5 responses to “The Book Group and Paula Hawkins’s Girl on the Train

  1. This is one of the few books I have not completed once started. Recommended by friends. Cleverly-written the closest I can come to positive – but then again – I understand that clever has its negative connotations. You, Jonathan, put your intelligent take on it and it rings with the things which made me put it aside – time wasted – who cares how it might turn out. Thanks! As for fathers & sons – I am really enjoying Richard FIDLER’s Ghost City (the story of Byzantium) a journey undertaken with his son Joe (then 14, I think)! When I was 14 it was very rough waters with my step-father – now 32 years buried – God rest his soul (he had one – but war-damaged)!

  2. The joys of growing old, that’s what I like to hear. I hope you really did mean “joys” and you weren’t being ironic, btw.

    If that quote is from the book, then I’m very glad I haven’t considered reading it. This – “He puts his arms around me and pulls me towards his chest. I try to resist him, but he’s stronger than me and anyway he smells great and I don’t want a fight. I want us to be on the same side. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbles again, into my hair.” – sounds so genre-cliche I couldn’t bear it. If I’m going to read “genre” it really has to escape the formula and this paragraph, if it’s typical, doesn’t do that.

    Still sounds like a good meeting – mine is coming up next week and we are doing something completely different, Best Australian Science Writing 2015!

    • Hi Sue. Yes, we weren’t being ironic. Not that all of us are so very old!
      The quote is close to being representative, though it’s not exactly the best bit of writing. One thing I didn’t mention is that there was close to a consensus that the most likeable character in the book was the self-pitying drunk – that must say something.
      Have fun with the science writing.

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