Study Guide

The Girl on the Train Versions of Reality

By Paula Hawkins

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Versions of Reality

My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can't help it. (1.1)

This is one of the very first lines in the book, and it informs our first impression of Rachel, making us wonder how much of what she says is the truth and how much is fantasy.

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. (1.4)

Like many people, Rachel engages in people watching. Unlike most people, she gets overly attached to the people she's watching.

I know that one warm summer evenings, the occupants of this house, Jason and Jess, sometimes climb out of the large sash window to sit on the makeshift terrace on top of the kitchen-extension roof. They are a perfect, golden couple. (1.14)

Rachel doesn't know anything about them. She just assumes they are perfect and golden (like toast) from the two minutes a day she sees them. In her imagination the other 1,438 minutes of the day are the same. That's a lot of minutes to fill in…

They're what I used to be, they're Tom and me five years ago. They're what I lost, they're everything I want to be. (1.30)

Rachel is half-right here. They are definitely what she wants to be, but she learns that her past isn't exactly what she thinks it was either. That, too, is colored by her imagination (and Tom's manipulation).

Sometimes I don't even watch the trains go past, I just listen. Sitting here in the morning, eyes closed and the hot orange sun on my eyelids, I could be anywhere. (2.2)

Megan is similar to Rachel, but different. Rachel imagines different lives for other people because thinks her own life is beyond hope, whereas Megan dreams of a different life for herself.

All those plans I had […] they feel a bit pointless, as if I'm playing at real life instead of actually living it. (2.34)

Megan doesn't know what she wants to do in her real life, so everything feels like a fantasy of sorts, like she isn't an adult, but is just pretending to be.

I am better than I was a few years ago […] I wouldn't have been able to come to a park like this, to sit near the playground and watch chubby toddlers rolling down the slide. (7.121)

Rachel also imagines what Tom and Anna's life is like, with a child that she herself could never have. This makes her depressed and borderline unable to function in public.

Megan is not a mystery to be solved, she is not a figure who wanders into the tracking shot at the beginning of a film, beautiful, ethereal, insubstantial. She is not a cipher. She is real. (9.51)

This is a revelation for Rachel. At this point, as readers, we know that Megan is a real person, not a fantasy. But Rachel has to work her way to that point because Megan is practically a fantasy princess to Rachel.

I keep thinking about the day I saw Kamal, about the way he kissed her, about how angry I was and how I wanted to confront her. […] What would have happened if I'd gone round then, banged on the door and asked her what the hell she thought she was up to? (17.13)

Rachel's imagination got her into this whole mess, and now she's wondering what it would be like if she did things differently. What would have happened if Rachel had interfered sooner?

This is what marriage is—safe, warm, comfortable. (36.1)

Yes, marriage is like that if you're not married to a sociopath. Tom and Anna's marriage is the opposite of all this, though.

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