The Girl on the Train revisited

I posted a review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins a few months back. I really liked it and gave it five stars. It was a long-time number one bestseller both in the U.S. and the U.K. So I suggested it for my book club, a group of retired men, mostly engineers, and yesterday we met to discuss it. I was the discussion leader.

I was surprised both at the strength in the division over the book, and the fact that most of the discussion group members didn’t like it and said they would have stopped reading it had it not been selected for the club. Two members either didn’t read it at all or stopped less than halfway through. One member absolutely loved it and was passionate and effusive about how much he enjoyed it. The next member said he hated it, at least at first. Those who didn’t like it at first, but who finished it, said that they eventually got into the story and ended up liking it okay, but there was little enthusiasm.  The most common complaint they had was that they were bored. Nothing was happening during the first half in their view.

Needless to say, I didn’t feel the same way. The suspense grabbed me from the beginning. It’s a psychological thriller, not an action thriller. There’s an ominous building of tension over what happened, largely because that whatever it was is not described early on. The reader can tell that something bad has taken place or is about to do so, but the main character, Rachel, is a classic “unreliable narrator” whose alcoholism and psychological issues make the reader doubt what she tells us. It is not a classic good guy(s) trying to find the bad guy(s) kind of mystery. As we get to know the characters better, we find none of them to be very admirable. The police play a minor role in the story even though the crime turns out to be a murder.

One of the members who didn’t like the book said he thought the difference was a male-female thing and wondered aloud what percent of the buyers were women. Of course, those in the group who liked it, the only ones who weren’t engineers, disagreed that only women would like the book, but I’m not sure he was on the wrong track. The author, Paula Hawkins, wrote several romance novels (under a different name) before this book. This book is in no way a romance novel. Still, she writes from a woman’s perspective. The book is told through the eyes of three characters, all women. On the other hand, maybe it is engineers who don’t like psychological thrillers. Perhaps they are more rooted in the concrete, the mechanical, the provable, and want facts and action, not thoughts and feelings of the characters.

While my opinion of the book hasn’t changed, I thought it might be useful to my many readers (he says tongue in cheek) to explain an opposing point of view or at least provide a useful warning to male engineers out there. I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book. It is also going to be made into a movie, due out this fall.

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