Study Guide

The Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train Introduction

Whether you're driving to wait tables at a restaurant in Topeka, riding the subway to Wall Street, or in a jeep heading out to hunt bloodthirsty koalas in the Australian Outback, the daily commute is a near-universal aspect of life. And this commute can be boring. It's the same old, same old, day in and day out. Yawn.

There are any number of ways to pass the time, but our personal favorite is people watching (or in the Outback, wallaby watching). People watching enables us to be amateur anthropologists, examining human behavior and flexing our imaginations by thinking up stories for everyone's personal lives. Just what does that wallaby do when we're not staring at it?

Rachel, who is the titular girl in The Girl on the Train, gets a little carried away with the people watching, imagining a perfect life and a perfect marriage for a particular (human) couple she sees every day on her train ride to and from London. But when Rachel sees the wife of this perfect couple kiss another man, then go missing a few days later, she gets swept up in an investigation that forces her to turn those people watching skills in on herself.

The Girl on the Train is the debut suspense thriller by Paula Hawkins, who was a UK journalist before turning her attention to fiction. A journalist, huh? We bet she has good people-watching skills, too. The Girl on the Train quickly became a hit after being released in 2015. After receiving a glowing review from Janet Maslin of the Times, The Girl on the Train debuted at the tippity-top of the bestseller list in February 2015.

A book that sped onto the scene like this one was obviously made into a movie—just don't confuse it with the critically panned 2013 flick by the same name starring the dude who played Desmond on Lost. Although that sounds kind of awesome, too.

With all its success, the book is like a runaway train never going back, but this one is going the right way on a one-way track. The Girl on the Train has already left the station, but it's never too late to get on board.

What is The Girl on the Train About and Why Should I Care?

Publishers want you to care because this is the "next Gone Girl." You know, since it has "girl" in the title, someone ends up gone, and so on. But there's more to it than that: The Girl on the Train exposes how our first impressions of people are often dead wrong—emphasis on the dead part, since this is a murder mystery.

We're introduced to all our main players through Rachel, but as the book develops, we find that Rachel is way off base with most of her judgments. She doesn't do it on purpose, though; she's not purposefully deceitful like Gone Girl's Amy Dunne. Rachel just sometimes she has a little too much imagination.

Unlike many books with cynical protagonists, Rachel often imagines people are much nicer than they actually are. However, this isn't a book for optimists. Rachel isn't imagining other people's perfect lives because she's a glass half-full kind of gal (well, unless that glass is half-filled with gin and tonic, in which case, she'd say yes, please in a heartbeat); she's doing it because she's envious.

If Rachel wasn't on the train, we imagine she'd be sitting at home on her tablet or smartphone stalking everyone online and suffering from Facebook envy. We've all done it, scrolling through photos of friends, family members, co-workers, and exes, imagining how much happier and more exciting their lives are than ours. Rachel is doing the same thing, except with strangers on a train.

Suffice it to say that Rachel's people watching takes a seriously dark turn, and Rachel learns that sometimes it's best to face the truth: Everyone is screwed up if you look beyond the smiling profile pictures and the few seconds of happiness per day that people are willing to share. But don't take our word for it. As this book proves, first impressions can be deceiving. So come on, ride this Train (choo-choo ride it), and see for yourself.

The Girl on the Train Resources

Websites

Model Train Sets
Paula Hawkins's website has more international covers, event news, and comparisons to Gone Girl than you can shake a train ticket at.

Movie or TV Productions

Do They Have Movies on Trains?
DreamWorks picked up the rights to The Girl on the Train before the book even came out. Good thing this Train has stayed on track.

Articles and Interviews

Gone Girls
These three readers bicker and argue, like the three narrators in The Girl on the Train, about which book is better, this one or Gone Girl.

Last Stop
According to Hawkins, her pseudonymous romantic fiction novels got darker and darker over time, eventually leading to the very dark The Girl on the Train.

Ms. Ogyny
This review highlights how the book examines the effects of internalized misogyny on women.

The Psycho on the Train
Hawkins reveals that the films of Alfred Hitchcock were a big influence on her. Does that mean there's an alternate ending where Anna is pecked to death by birds? We sure hope so.

A Review on a Train
Check out Michael Schaub's review of The Girl on the Train. Fun fact: Hawkins used to be a journalist.

Video

Glamour Girl on a Train
Everyone loves a prize, and Paula Hawkins won her first award for literature from Glamour magazine, and she gratefully accepted it.

Hangout with Hawkins
No time to join a real book club? Join the Mashable book club, which conducts discussions remotely.

Audio

ABCs as Easy as 123
Slate's Audio Book Club (ABC) "climb[s] aboard" The Girl on the Train and flies full-speed ahead into spoilerville.

Perfect Strangers
Paula Hawkins won't be just another stranger on a train after you listen to this interview.

Images

Girl in Motion
This book cover's title looks as if it'll skitter right off the page.

Sardines in a Tin
Here's what the view inside a London commuter train really looks like

What About the Train itself?
And here's the train.