Fresh Blood

Name: Paula Hawkins

Title of Book: The Girl on the Train

'...before you know it an hour or more will have passed and you will still be enthralled by Hawkins’ suspenseful tale.'

"To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I'm doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists. Just goes to show."

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason' she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

Then she sees something shocking. It's only for a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough.

Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives previously only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train.

I was fortunate enough to be given an advance copy of ‘The Girl on the Train’ way back in July 2014 and I read it a few weeks later. Since then it has been a book I haven't stopped recommending to people, even though it's not published until the 15th of this month.

We've all, I'm sure, at one time or another looked through a stranger’s window or watched them in the garden and wondered who they are or what their lives are like. In ‘The Girl on the Train’, Rachel takes this voyeurism one step further, seeing the same people in the same gardens every day as she passes, she gives them names, lives and when one day she sees something disturbing goes one step further, and becomes involved

The narrative, in the main, is from two voices, Rachel and Megan, although a third voice, Anna joins in later. Megan tells the story of the months leading up to her disappearance, Rachel the period of time as she inserts herself into the investigation and Anna appears at the time when all begins to overlap. The characters of all three have been well thought out and are some of the most real I have encountered in some time. This made it easy to believe that we all could, or may even at some point in time, been in the shoes of the person telling the tale.

One of the best things about ‘The Girl on the Train’ is the diaristic style of writing. Whilst the style lends itself to a book that is easy to pick up and put down, the daily entries are catchy and addictive, so as the well-paced plot throws twist after twist after turn at you, the words "I'll just read one more entry" will become your mantra and before you know it an hour or more will have passed and you will still be enthralled by Hawkins’ suspenseful tale.

‘The Girl on the Train’ has divorces, affairs, first and second wives, unrequited love, job loss, motherhood, and substance abuse are just some of the themes covered in this dark tale, there's something in here for everyone. This is an impressive and strong crime debut that will chill and thrill in equal measure.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) As like many others, I am someone who enjoys peering in through windows into someone else's world. What made you decide to turn this ‘spectator sport’ into a novel?
I think most of us enjoy this voyeuristic impulse: I know I did when I commuted every day; and it was during this time that I started wondering what I would do if I witnessed something strange or frightening through one of the windows of the houses I passed? And then I started wondering about what someone lonely, or someone a bit unstable – like my main character, Rachel – might do. These glimpses of people’s lives we get, they’re so fleeting, there is so much scope for misinterpretation – and that seemed to me to open up a whole world of possibility.
2) Diaristic narratives are one of my favourite styles of writing, what made you choose this format for ‘The Girl on the Train’?
I had initially planned to write the whole book from Rachel’s perspective, and a diaristic narrative was not just appropriate for her, it was essential, because she doesn’t really have anyone else to confide in. She has severed ties with her friends and family, she is now almost completely isolated, so she’s really just talking to herself – and to the reader.
3) Rachel’s struggle with alcohol is sensitively and brilliantly written, how did you manage such an issue?
Fictional portrayals of alcoholism can be a little clichéd – all raddled, middle-aged men reaching for the bottle of Scotch at nine in the morning. People struggling with addiction came in all shapes and sizes: many of them appear to function quite normally, holding down jobs and raising families. But maintaining this appearance of order and routine is exhausting, and Rachel is getting to the point where even the semblance of normality is slipping away from her.
4) Are you a commuter and do you people watch on the train? Do you make up stories about your fellow travellers and have some of them appeared in your work?
I don’t commute any longer because I’m lucky enough to work from home now; but I spent years commuting from various parts of London across to other parts. For a long time I lived towards the Wimbledon end of the District Line, much of which runs over-ground. As anyone who lives down that way will attest, it is also notoriously slow, so I used to get quite a bit of time to peer into people’s houses. I particularly loved looking at all the little makeshift roof terraces with their plants and colourful deckchairs – for some reason I always imagined the people in those flats were living way more interesting and Bohemian lives than I was.
5) You took part in a fun and innovative campaign to publicise ‘The Girl on the Train’ at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in 2014, what was that like?
That was my first experience of the festival and it was brilliant. Transworld, my publishers, had produced gorgeous proof copies of ‘The Girl on the Train’ which people really responded to and were very keen to get their hands on, so that was very exciting. It was also my first ever book signing, which was great – it was so lovely to actually meet and chat to the people who are going to read your book, particularly at a festival like Harrogate which has such a friendly and engaged crowd.
6) This is your debut novel. Did you have to write around your ‘day job’? What sort of writing regime do you try to stick to?
This is my debut thriller, the first book written under my name. I had written novels before, in a different genre and under a pseudonym, so I didn’t actually have a day job when I started writing ‘The Girl on the Train’. I don’t really have a regime for writing: I tend to work quite normal days, but I do go through phases when I write all the time. The few months I took to write the first half of this book were like that: I wrote all the time, feverishly. I was a bit obsessed.
7) As a newly published author what advice would you give to anyone looking for their first deal?
This is not a very original thing to say but you need to be persistent and to have a thick skin. If you get notes back from agents or editors, pay attention to their advice and be prepared to rewrite. It’s always difficult to take notes when you’ve spent ages crafting a piece of writing, but these people usually know what they’re talking about. If you’re looking for a writer’s guide, I always recommend ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.
8) What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my second thriller, which centres on the relationship between two sisters, one of whom is dead at the start of the book. It’s got quite a Gothic feel. Essentially it’s about how we remember things that we have done and that have been done to us, and about how those stories we tell about ourselves go to make up who we are. They become our truths, even when they are not, in fact, entirely rooted in reality. What interests me is what happens when we are forced to confront the fact that some of those stories are not true at all.
9) What do you look for when you pick up a book to read?
These days I’m very susceptible to suggestion on Twitter. I have so many books on my To Be Read pile that I very rarely go into a bookshop without knowing what it is I want to buy.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

‘So Much Pretty’ by Cara Hoffman

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