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Murder Among Friends

Our Discussion On: "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins with Girl on the Train cover

Paula Hawkins with Girl on the Train coverMAF Discussion Summary on: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

If there is one thing that can be said about The Girl on the Train (and the whole group agreed on) – it is one heck of a good discussion book! It is the kind of book that readers are eager to talk to other people about. Due in part to the three female points of view (POV), we found it was very difficult to like any of the characters (although Megan drew some sympathy). We in fact felt that Rachel in particular needed a good “whatsamatta-you” to shake her out of her destructive behaviors. Anna got the least sympathy as she came across as calculating and self-obsessed. Members did acknowledge that her fierce protectiveness for her baby girl was a point in her favor. None of the male characters were likeable, but we wondered if that might’ve changed had any of their points of view been included. We thought including Tom’s POV could ruin the story, but it would have been interesting if Scott’s POV had been added to the mix.

We found the use of alternating points of view to be skillfully done, but a bit confusing as far as the timeline of events was concerned. Several of us just ignored the dates, and concentrated on how different events in the book progressed as we read. Rachel’s revelations in particular could be hard to follow (& of course, rely on) but we felt that reinforced the fact the character is an alcoholic.

One member brought up the cinematic overtones to the story, and how it is definitely a “Gaslight”. We talked a bit about what that meant, and how it originates with the movie “Gaslight”. And we agreed with reviewers who see a correlation to Hitchcock for the feel of the book and its many twists. We talked about how key people or events are omitted – or used as red herrings. The character Craig McKenzie (Mac) is mentioned (and has a significant role) but we never meet him. And the “red-headed man” was our red-haired herring! We all thought he’d serve a different role in the story than what it turns out to be. At one point, he, like the other characters, was considered for who did away with Megan.

There’s a reference used a couple of times in the book where Tom is quoting Henry Miller by saying “Don’t expect me to be sane, I can’t be, not with you”.  His repetition of this –to at least two of the women – is just one of the points that make readers question Tom’s sincerity and truthfulness (There’ll be a link to Miller’s original letter to Anais Nin on our Trace Evidence page on the MAF blog.)

Tom’s outstanding abilities as a liar, was also addressed by the group. We kicked around the idea of women being attracted to liars (as all three of these women were). While we agreed that we can be taken in by a skillful liar, once the lies are exposed, the relationship is generally over. The fact that every character is untruthful or carrying secrets from their spouses contributed to the overall apathy we had for each character.

This led to the group’s views on what we think makes this book so popular. First, it is picking up on the trend that Gone Girl exemplifies: the unreliable narrator, and the rush of pinning down what you can believe from what you can’t. While the characters themselves can be unpleasant, the issues they are dealing with, and some of the scenes raised reader sympathies and interest. Megan’s first pregnancy and its outcome got particular empathy. The actual writing of the book, the skill of the author, was also appreciated and we could easily see why it would be made into a movie.

We questioned why the filmmakers’ chose to set the film version in New York instead of London, while keeping a British actress in the lead role of Rachel. Patricia shared an interview with Paula Hawkins where, early on, she was stunned that so many Americans would be taken with the story. Perhaps Emily Blunt serves to tie between the original story and the shift to America. Both places can relate to the issues and types of people in the story. Members felt this story was one more instance where the world is smaller than we sometimes think.

We also spent time considering the statements made about this novel being “an unconventional suspense novel that ha[s] eroded the already thin boundary between literary fiction and thrillers.” And that such books are “character-driven narratives that defy genre conventions”. Sarah McGrath, editor and chief at Riverhead who acquired this book said she normally doesn’t read or buy thrillers but made an exception for Hawkins’ novel. “We do more boutique literary publishing, but this book is so superbly crafted that it belonged on our list”, she said. This disparaging of genre fiction, and assumption that any fiction that is well done transcends its genre to be in the exclusive literary fiction club was roundly denied by our group. Such reviewers ignore the fact that there are many, superb novels that have been written in many genres. All it means is that some people need to exclude these books from their proper genre and include them in literary fiction, so they get the chance to enjoy something good! We gladly see suspense/thrillers as a legitimate part of the mystery genre – and especially include all the well-written ones!

We’ll be taking a last look at The Girl on the Train on Saturday, Feb. 25th at 1:30 p.m. in Meeting Room B when we gather to see the movie version starring Emily Blunt (Rachel), Haley Bennett (Megan), and Rebecca Ferguson (Anna). There’ll be popcorn, treats, and further conversation!

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