While the characters aren’t warm and fuzzy, the expert plot pacing of “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins speeds readers through the psychological thriller, agreed FYI Book Club participants.
Book club members gathered recently in the railroad-themed KCT board room at Union Station to discuss Hawkins’ best-selling debut novel.
The book opens with Rachel, a lonely woman with an active imagination, which she uses to make up stories about the people she sees on her daily commute to London.
Her train makes a prolonged stop at the same station every morning and evening. That affords Rachel an extended look into the backyard lives of a young, beautiful couple she has dubbed Jess and Jason.
One morning, Rachel spies Jess kissing another man, and the next day she doesn’t see Jess at all. Soon, the newspapers are filled with the face of “Jess,” who has disappeared. Rachel’s imagination gives way to an inquisitiveness that annoys detectives, who suspect she may be part of the crime.
The novel has been called this year’s “Gone Girl,” a novel by Gillian Flynn, and such comparisons were inevitable.
Vicki Meek of Leawood didn’t care for “The Girl on the Train” but preferred it to “Gone Girl.”
“I know I’m in the minority here,” Meek said, grinning. “But I wanted more layers to Hawkins’ story. I wanted to like the characters more. However, I did find this story far more believable than ‘Gone Girl.’”
Sheryl Blay of Shawnee agreed.
“This book had better character development than ‘Gone Girl,’” she said. “Rachel starts out so pathetic, but the reader develops sympathy for her and understands how Rachel reached this point in her life and what is driving her to make some questionable decisions.”
Jill Schmidt of Kansas City admired how Hawkins wove together the plotlines for the three main female characters. Rachel’s “Jess” turns out to be Megan and “Jason” is Scott.
“I liked the way the lives of the women were all converging to one single point in time,” Schmidt said, “even though I thought the ending was a bit unbelievable. By then, we all know who did it.”
“Of the three primary female characters,” said Elaine Wilson of Belton, “we know the most about Rachel and Megan and the very least about Anna.”
Many readers agreed that Rachel was the most sympathetic of the women. There were no disagreements about the male characters.
“Tom, Rachel’s ex and Anna’s current husband, is the most believable, even if he is the most despicable,” said Wilma Weddington of Independence.
Brenda Brown of Kansas City pointed to Megan’s therapist, Kamal Abdic.
“He was an odd sidebar,” she said. “But he was the least dislikable. Dr. Abdic felt some remorse and he listened to Megan and Rachel.”
Ellen Schwartze of Kansas City wasn’t convinced.
“He took advantage of Megan,” she said. “And he’d done this before.”
On the character of Scott, Megan’s husband, Mark Feaster of Overland Park said he seemed like an OK guy at first.
“But once he learned his wife, Megan, was having an affair, he became abusive,” Feaster said.
While no one claimed to like any of the characters, they all agreed the pacing of the story kept them turning the pages.
“It’s a sign of a good author if the reader doesn’t care for all the characters — makes the book far more interesting,” said Stephany Hughes of Excelsior Springs.
“But the suspense … it certainly moved along like a train off the rails,” Janice Feaster of Overland Park said. “Whether we liked this book or not, you had to see where it all ended.”
Kaite Stover is director of readers’ services for the Kansas City Public Library.
Join the club
The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a book of the moment selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email email@example.com. Watch for the next selection, “The Battle of Versailles” by Robin Givhan, to be introduced in FYI.