Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publishing Date: January 13, 2015
This novel had me itching for an excuse to find something else to read before I picked it up. I know that it was labeled a “Thriller,” but the synopsis screamed “Contemporary,” and “Drama,” to me- both genres I tend to dislike. Hawkins, however, rocked my world off its axis with Rachel’s journey. It was everyone’s journey, really, because Hawkins took special care to give voices to those who played vital roles.
Let’s start by analyzing the main characters. First we are introduced to Rachel, who narrates most of our story from her own view. Rachel, a lonely drunk, battling depression and severe anxiety finds herself fantasizing about the lives of four people who live on her old street, which she passes daily when commuting on the train. Rachel is reeling after her now-ex-husband has an affair and leaves her. It seems she just hasn’t recovered. Of course, she no longer had a place to stay after the divorce, which lead her to stay with Kathy, her old schoolmate who is far too kind, far too patient, and far too tolerant of Rachel’s behavior.
I think one of the most revealing things Rachel said was “Some days I feel so bad I have to drink. Some days I feel so bad I can’t.” She’s genuinely torn about her addiction, but she’s constantly hungry for a buzz- anything to numb the pain. When she’s anxious she drinks until it subsides, and if the alcohol doesn’t kick in fast enough she’ll pull at her nails until they bleed. Initially, the thought is that her alcoholism started because of Tom’s (her ex-husband) infidelity, but we soon learn that’s not the case.
Rachel has an odd sense of justification, often times feeling that unless she can remember a memory to the point where she can literally feel it, she can’t own up to her actions. During her binges she often blacks out and forgets what has been said and done until she is later put to shame by whomever reveals it to her. She of course feels regret about what happened, but she claims she can’t feel remorse because the memory doesn’t feel like it “belongs” to her. With deep rooted insecurity, Rachel found her identity in Tom, so when he slipped from her grasp she blamed herself. Full of nightmares she can’t make sense of, an unwavering need to be numbed by alcohol, and a lack of purpose without Tom we witness an unraveled woman who seems to be spinning to her demise.
We’re immediately introduced to Tom Watson through Rachel’s memories of their time together, but it’s not long before we meet him for ourselves. Tom was unfaithful to Rachel after her inability to conceive drove her to drink. Personally, I felt disdain towards him for his choice to please himself over supporting his wife, Rachel. Granted, having heard the stories from both accounts, I’m not saying that she was the ideal wife. She was far from innocent and at times he was very patient with her. That being said, not once did he go out of his way to save his wife’s life. Intervention programs were designed for people like Rachel, and she was so infatuated with Tom that had he asked she would have gone. Initially I thought Tom’s reason for cheating was a desire for his own biological child, but I soon realized he was way too physically driven to care about that. It boiled down to sex. No one wants to make love to a woman covered in her own bile, who smells of alcohol, and hasn’t bathed in days. His justification? He had needs. He got bored. Both of those are insufficient excuses in my eyes.
How about the harlot who willingly slept with a married man? Anna, a materialistic snob. She hires Megan, another vital character, to babysit her child, Evie. Why? Because she’s just so overwhelmed as a stay-at-home mom of one child, with a husband who makes enough money that she’s not concerned with bills. In reality, she hired her so that she could nap in the middle of the day. Anna has a burning hatred for Rachel, whom she believes is dangerous. If you need a reason to hate Rachel just ask Anna. She could list 10 in her sleep. Rachel’s very existence causes Anna paranoia and anxiety, which I quite truly believe is irrational. Then again, I’m sure I have a bit of bias considering that I literally know Rachel inside and out. I know her most intimate thoughts and beliefs. I know that her character would never allow for her to hurt a child- drunk or not.
Obviously Rachel has her sights set on the family unit Tom has, the one that was rightfully hers, in her eyes. Tom, and Anna, however, are not the only two people that Rachel focuses on. There is a lovely couple just a few doors down from the Watson’s. Rachel has never met them, but for the sake of fantasizing she names them Jess and Jason. Through a series of events, Jess, later known to be Megan, goes missing. This is when the story radically changes, this is where Rachel finds her purpose.
Megan, a petite girl with a thin frame is a starving artist whose wings have been clipped. Physically she spends her days watching the Watson’s little girl, but mentally she’s back in her art gallery before it closed down. Megan is married to Scott, whom carries her through thick and thin. She struggles with insomnia and a lack of passion. Obviously she loves art, however, once her gallery closed she was unable to pursue it. She greatly hates caring for the Watson’s child and desires more than anything to quit. Megan, much like Mr. Watson, is also unfaithful. Scott is aware that she has had affairs before, and he cannot trust her because she is a pathological liar. She feels that she can’t help the way she feels, nor her desire to have sexual encounters with whomever, whenever she pleases, and still have a loving husband to return to.
Megan has a deep-rooted insecurity of abandonment (from a hidden event, and the death of her brother when she was 15) that leads to a fear of commitment. She desires to run away, to beat people to the punch by leaving and hurting them first. Throughout the first portion of the book we follow Megan through her journey of releasing an old hurt. There is a secret she’s buried so deep that even she, at times, can’t remember it. A promiscuous woman, eager to experience the rush of being desired, irresistible even, to men other than her husband.
Scott, patient man that he is, struggles to trust Megan- which is understandable after repeated infidelity. He is possessive, jealous, and nosy. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t all bad. He’s loving, and gentle. He’s a safe place for Megan- even if she doesn’t trust him. Scott is desperate, and terrified of losing Megan. He’s diligent about caring for her, supporting her and prompting her to seek help for the damage done by her brother’s death. When Megan does agree to seek out help we meet Dr. Kamal Abdic. Initially, Kamal comes across as protective, inviting and sweet, even. He prompts Megan to consider her husband’s behavior, and her own. Most every encounter with him is described as warm and inviting. He has a talent for listening, and easily shows his genuine desire to help.
Through a series of events, Megan goes missing, the world around Rachel crumbles, and she finds it necessary to play detective after seeing Megan kiss another man other than Scott. Eventually everyone’s paths cross- scratch that -collide. Rachel knows that if she doesn’t find out what happened to Jess- sorry, Megan -she will never be able to sleep again. She will never be able to move on and surpass this innate need to be numbed constantly.
Hawkins takes her readers on a journey that twists and turns more than the windiest of rivers. Every time I would tell myself, “I know exactly how this story is going to end,” Hawkins would provide an ounce of information that would, due to reasonable doubt, have sent my theories to death row. This novel is full of well-rounded characters who are so realistic I can’t imagine this being a work of fiction. She’s a champion of tying things together, a queen of foreshadowing, and a professional at masking the truth. The journey Hawkins provides for her readers is one that will have you sitting in your seat, jaw dropped, as your heart beats our of your chest with love, hatred, and everything in between.
I can quite easily say that this is one of the best books I have ever read.