Book Summary and Analysis |

Fiction | Mystery and Crime



Summary and Critique of

Paula Hawkins’s
The Girl on the Train

by J.B. Feliciton

Copyright©2015 J.B. Feliciton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller. The narrative is split between three women—Rachel, Megan and Anna—whose lives become heartbreakingly connected. The book alternates among their stories, keeping Rachel Watson, who is the “girl on the train,” as the primary narrator. Rachel, a depressed alcoholic, has been fired for drunkenness. Her excessive drinking leads to numerous drunken blackouts that make the story more complicated.

Rachel has no job, but she continues to take a commuter train from Ashbury to London and back every day. The train makes a stop near a row of houses. Rachel used to live with her husband Tom in one of these houses. Tom still lives there with Anna, his new wife. Another married couple lives in the house a few doors down from Tom’s house. Rachel does not know them, but she catches glimpses of their life, watching them through the window of the daily commuter train.

Rachel make ups names and occupations for them. She calls them “Jess” and “Jason.” She learns later that their real names are Scott and Megan. Rachel fantasizes about their happy marriage in an attempt to compensate for her own failed marriage and to forget about her own miserable life. When Megan disappears, Rachel believes that she might be the only person who has important information about the missing woman.

Rachel becomes involved in the investigation of the disappearance of Megan, and the reader follows the investigation through Rachel’s first-person perspective. While she desperately tries to recall past events, her faulty memories keep moving the reader from one wrong suspicion to another.

Introduction and Plot Overview

Paula Hawkins lives in London. She worked as a journalist for 15 years before she began writing fiction. Before The Girl on the Train, she wrote a few fiction books under the pen name Amy Silver. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller, but it does not read like a debutant’s work. The Girl on the Train is perfectly paced, from its intriguing beginning to its dramatic ending. It is a book that you won’t be able to put down.

Hawkins skillfully keeps the reader in suspense as the mystery begins to unravel and the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together. The story has three women to narrate it: Rachel, Megan (“Jess”), and Anna. It is told from a first-person perspective, alternating among these three characters. Each woman’s narrative allows the reader to learn about her life and motivations. Rachel’s narration is often a challenging read, as she desperately tries to recover her memories lost in a haze of drunken nights.

Megan’s chapters tell readers about the events that took place a few months prior to the stories that Rachel and Anna are narrating, and Hawkins handles the time shifting effortlessly. Hawkins’s approach of offering first-person insight to multiple characters further enriches the plot, allowing the reader to learn about some of the secrets of each character that other characters do not know.

Hawkins’s writing is superb. The story reads like a Hitchcockian suspense piece. Moreover, it makes the reader think about the limitations of our knowledge of other people’s minds and lives, and the extent to which human memory and imagination can become tangled.

The Girl on the Train is full of thrilling plot twists that move the story along at a brisk, page-turning pace. What is more, in her novel, Hawkins masterfully blends thrilling suspense with a genuine critique of the cultural norms, expectations and stereotypes that continue to have a negative impact on women’s lives.


Rachel Watson is a depressed alcoholic. She has been drinking heavily for a few years since her husband cheated on her and left her for another woman. Now she is riding the commuter train to and from London, even though she was fired from her job a few months ago. Every day the train that she rides passes the neighborhood where she used to live when she was married. Every day she can see through the train window a married couple that lives in a house located close to the railroad tracks. Although Rachel does not know the couple, she fantasizes about their perfect and happy family life. Rachel names them “Jess” and “Jason.” She also makes up their life stories. Rachel learns later that their real names are Megan and Scott.

The fantasies about their life help Rachel keep her mind off her own worries and problems. One day, these fantasies are destroyed when she sees through the train window that Megan is kissing another man. Rachel feels devastated and hurt as this event brings to her mind the painful memories of her own husband cheating on her. Rachel gets drunk and decides to ride the train that passes the house of ‘Jess’ and ‘Jason.’ Rachel hopes to see what is going on there. On the next day, she wakes up in her bed. She is covered with bruises and blood. Unfortunately, she cannot remember what happened to her. She finds an angry voicemail from Tom who blames her for frightening his wife, Anna. However, Rachel does not remember her encounter with Anna.

Megan disappears and Rachel wonders if she might be the only person who knows about her affair. She returns to Witney with the hope that she can recall what happened there. She vaguely recalls herself sitting in the underpass with blood on her hands. Megan’s disappearance becomes national news. Rachel follows the news with the hope to learn something new about her whereabouts. The police question Rachel, but she cannot give clear answers. Later, Rachel meets with Detective Gaskill and identifies Megan’s lover in a photograph.

While Rachel thinks about what may have happened to Megan, she also attempts to recall her own whereabouts on the night of Megan’s disappearance, desperately trying to fill in the blanks of her drunken blackouts.

A body, which is believed to be that of Megan Hipwell, is discovered relatively close to Megan’s house. Rachel becomes preoccupied with the case. As her life gets more and more intertwined with the people involved in the case, she realizes that they cannot be trusted and that nothing about their lives is what it seems. Rachel discovers that the real life of Megan and Scott is very different from her fantasies. While the case becomes more complicated, Rachel’s suspicions move from one person to the next. When Rachel finally discovers the truth about the disappearance and death of Megan, she confronts the murderer.


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