She’s buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. Not more than a little pile of stones, really. I didn’t want to draw attention to her resting place, but I couldn’t leave her without remembrance. She’ll sleep peacefully there, no one to disturb her, no sounds but birdsong and the rumble of passing trains.
One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl… Three for a girl. I’m stuck on three, I just can’t get any further. My head is thick with sounds, my mouth thick with blood. Three for a girl. I can hear the magpies—they’re laughing, mocking me, a raucous cackling. A tiding. Bad tidings. I can see them now, black against the sun. Not the birds, something else. Someone’s coming. Someone is speaking to me. Now look. Now look what you made me do.
When I first purchased this book, the person who sold it to me gave me rave reviews saying “you’ll love it, it’s amazing”. So immediately after purchasing this book, I got apprehensive. Why? Because now I already had this expectation in my mind, an unbelievably high expectation of a book that I was now going to read. I just hoped in my mind that he was right.
The book starts off with two teasers, quotes from the book from one character, Megan; at the beginning and at the end of her story. Foreshadowing what’s to come – very clever from Paula Hawkins! The second quote disturbed me more than the first in that this character is aware of everything, that she is aware of her apparent demise. The first quote is almost that of a comfort to the narrator, that the body she is talking about is at peace, ironically by train tracks. But then this story revolves around train tracks…
The book is split into various narrators – Rachael, Megan and Anna. They are written as diary entries, varying in length. These diary entries get confusing if you don’t pay attention to the dates and even if you do, they still confuse you. For example, Rachael’s story is chronological whereas Megan’s is slower to get going and eventually get into the nitty-gritty of her story towards the end of the novel so the dates in hers are much less spread out. Anna enters as a narrator later on in the story. We meet several other people in the book and see how all their stories become intertwined.
We meet Rachael, recently divorced and an alcoholic. She rides the train every day and she sees the same couple every morning, a couple she believes represents the ‘perfect’ couple. But when she notices something out of the train window, she doesn’t envisage how that would impact her life or the lives of those around her and suddenly she’s embroiled in a game of figuring out the truth from the lies.
There’s a quote in the book that says:
“Life is not a paragraph and death is no parenthesis. “
This is the last line of a poem, ‘Since feeling is first’, by E. E. Cummings. There are so many different ways that this line and, indeed, the whole poem can be interpreted. Personally I think that the line ‘for life’s not a paragraph and death i think is no parenthesis’ means that living – and even dying – are more deeply fulfilling experiences than simply writing about them. The paradox, of course, is that writing was a huge part of this poet’s life. Cummings wrote almost 3000 poems in his lifetime. So maybe what Paula Hawkins is trying to say here is that maybe there is more to life and death than looking out the train window.
I don’t want to give too much away because as any good thriller demands, the reader should discover this for themselves! I didn’t watch the film prior to this and I’m glad I didn’t. I had a completely fresh point of view and picture of the book, I could create my own characters in my head – what they looked like in each scene, picturing their commute. Full applause to Paula Hawkins who has created a thriller which is hard not to put down. With the unexpected twist at the end, it’s a book that’s full of shocks and surprises.
It also throws up many questions for us in every day life. Thinking about me on a train, I look out the window (if my head isn’t stuck in a book) and look at the houses or whatever view is before me. Even just walking down the street we see people and without trying we judge them. We think they’re the perfect couple, we think ‘they can do better’ but in reality no-one knows what’s going on behind closed doors or what’s going through their minds.
Something we don’t consider is how many moments of some strangers lives have we been in and not even realised? This is what happens with Rachael. I leave you with a quote from One Tree Hill which I think depicts perfectly that feeling.