“The Girl on the Train” has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since “Gone Girl,” the book still entrenched on best-seller lists two and a half years after publication because nothing better has come along. “The Girl on the Train” has “Gone Girl”-type fun with unreliable spouses, too. Its author, Paula Hawkins, isn’t as clever or swift as Gillian Flynn, the author of “Gone Girl,” but she’s no slouch when it comes to trickery or malice. So “The Girl on the Train” is liable to draw a large, bedazzled readership too.
Ms. Hawkins’s story has three women to narrate it. But Rachel, the main one, hits a new high in unreliability. For one thing, she’s drunk throughout most of the story, so her memories are not to be trusted. Not even she is sure if what she remembers really happened. For another, her whole life has become a lie. Her boozy behavior has gotten her fired in London, but she still sticks to her old, rigid commuting schedule because she has nothing else to do. She is able to belt down multiple canned gin and tonics on each train ride.
And she is obsessed with Tom, the ex-husband who left her for a pliant blonde named Anna. Anna made a foxy mistress, but she’s become much more stern as Tom’s wife and the mother of their young daughter. She doesn’t like to look out the window and see Rachel lurking. But Rachel lurks, phones, pesters and then the next day remembers none of what she did.
Since her real life is so barren, Rachel has to live in fantasy. And the house she used to share with Tom is on a street beside the railroad tracks. So when the train conveniently stops there every morning, Rachel sees an attractive, loving young couple who live on her old block. She nicknames them Jason and Jess, and she imagines they have the happy life that she herself has lost. Until the day she sees Jess, sans Jason, kissing another man.