Citing Zoe Heller’s Notes On A Scandal and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series as influences on her own writing, Paula Hawkin’s debut psychological thriller, justifies a place besides both. It is an intelligent and unnerving story that cleverly manipulates our feeling towards the central narrator, Rachel who, struggling with her own mental and emotional turmoil, finds herself embroiled in a murder. As the story progresses and other connections with Rachel are made in the course of the investigation, Hawkins delights in wrong-footing the reader, with a slow and effective build-up of tension. As Hawkins says, the book is “about what happens when you peel back the veneer of everyday life and discover something dark and sinister underneath,” and The Girl On The Train delivers this on every level. An excellent addition to the British psychological crime stable, and the current trend for domestic noir. A welcome distraction from that dreary commute and here’s an extract to tempt you further…
Friday, 5 July 2013
THERE IS A PILE OF clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue
cloth – a shirt, perhaps – jumbled up with something dirty white.
It’s probably rubbish, part of a load fly-tipped into the scrubby
little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the
engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often
enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me
that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that too. I can’t
help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a
lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe, and the
feet that fitted into them.
The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the
little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards
London, moving at a brisk jogger’s pace. Someone in the seat behind
me gives a sigh of helpless irritation; the 8.04 slow train from
Ashbury to Euston can test the patience of the most seasoned
commuter. The journey is supposed to take fifty-four minutes, but it
rarely does: this section of the track is ancient, decrepit, beset with
signalling problems and never-ending engineering works.
The train crawls along; it judders past warehouses and water
towers, bridges and sheds, past modest Victorian houses, their
backs turned squarely to the track.
My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these
houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as
others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them from
this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives,
just for a moment. There’s something comforting about the sight
of strangers safe at home.
Someone’s phone is ringing, an incongruously joyful and
upbeat song. They’re slow to answer, it jingles on and on around
me. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their
newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways
around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal. I try not to
look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way
into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing
holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of
clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned.
The pre-mixed gin and tonic fizzes up over the lip of the can as I
bring it to my mouth and sip. Tangy and cold, the taste of my first
ever holiday with Tom, a fishing village on the Basque coast in
2005. In the mornings we’d swim the half-mile to the little island
in the bay, make love on secret hidden beaches; in the afternoons
we’d sit at a bar drinking strong, bitter gin and tonics, watching
swarms of beach footballers playing chaotic 25-a-side games on
the low-tide sands.
I take another sip, and another; the can’s already half empty but
it’s OK, I have three more in the plastic bag at my feet. It’s Friday,
so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train. TGIF. The
fun starts here.
It’s going to be a lovely weekend, that’s what they’re telling us.
Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies. In the old days we might have
driven to Corly Wood with a picnic and the papers, spent all
afternoon lying on a blanket in dappled sunlight, drinking wine…