Written by Ella Walker


Shelf Life

This week Ella Walker assesses The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Is it worthy of a permanent place on her shelf?

rolled book pagesWas it love at first sight?

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of it – a fact that made the person who gave me a copy bark with confused laughter. I didn’t understand, not until I went on a London visit, that is, and saw the murky cover looming on every underground platform wall, taglines screaming: “MUST READ” and “THE BOOK EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT.”

Apparently it merits the sort of hushed, awed asides (“Have you got to the […] bit?!”) and anti-spoiler shrieks (“Don’t tell me the end!”) that Gone Girl and Apple Tree Yard rightly earned. I didn’t have these expectations or demands, I’d managed to sidestep the hype, and still The Girl on the Train managed to disappoint.

How would you describe it behind its back?

A back and forth tale sloshing with bile as one scorned woman (Rachel) commutes past her old home and imagines the lives of a couple she can see through the train window. Then there’s a murder, a muddling up of neighbours, a series of unreliable narrators and a big reveal. You know the drill.

“The only thing to keep track of was which direction G&T-supping protagonist Rachel’s train was going in each chapter. The woman’s an interfering yo-yo.”

How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable around each other?

I class myself as someone who doesn’t read that many thrillers, has no interest in crime reads and likes to be able to read before bed without self-administering the material for nightmares. However, things like Child 44, Before I Go To Sleep and the aforementioned Gone Girl and Apple Tree Yard have (alongside the odd Martina Cole novel) turned up on my reading list of late. I’m certainly warming to page-turners, and this is one, even if the twists aren’t all that jaw-dropping.

How would it describe your commitment levels – did you put the effort in?

It didn’t require that much effort. The only thing to keep track of was which direction G&T-supping protagonist Rachel’s train was going in each chapter. The woman’s an interfering yo-yo.

Did it make you laugh out loud?

Only in bemusement. Was I missing the point? Was there a line on page 15 that would have hooked me had I only been paying attention and not skim reading? Oh well.

Could you take it on holiday with you, without getting severely hacked off after three days?

I couldn’t generate enough enthusiasm to get thoroughly hacked off with the actual book. In reality, if I had made the mistake of taking up valuable baggage space with this yarn, I’d probably have forgotten it at the bottom of the suitcase, caught up in the race for sun and rooftop terrace drinking and only remembered it again when unpacking.

You’ve had a nightmare time. Would it provide the understanding to get you through / soak up your tears?

This would serve as a distraction only as it tugs you down mercilessly into the messy lives of people who cheat, lie and drink their way through their problems, and then go and get all voyeuristic to boot.

The Girl on the Train book coverWould you let it meet your other friends?

Forcibly so. Once finished I palmed it off on a friend – who really does love thrillers – immediately, so I wouldn’t have to look at it in dismal sad-anger for a second longer.

If you suddenly stumbled across it after several years of lost contact, do you reckon you would:
a) think of it fondly but accept you’d both moved on (keep but don’t read)
b) pick up exactly where you left off (reread every few years)
c) ditch it, obviously you were never really friends.

Definitely c. No fondness, only regret that I could have been reading something good in its place, as well as a vague hatred for the book industry’s repetitive, hyped up thrill machine. Give it a rest.

Next month Ella will be reading Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Woolf.


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Written by Ella Walker

Ella Walker is an entertainment writer and book blogger living in Cambridge. She likes swimming in the sea and eating biscuits. Preferably at the same time.