Critics are raving about The Girl on the Train, and after three days of white-knuckle reading and hastily digested chapters on my lunch break, they are right to be. Author Paula Hawkins throws an alcoholic, makes-all-bad-decisions, divorcee protagonist straight into a train station, where, on that very same night, a woman ends up murdered. Haphazard tendrils and alcoholic recollections connect Rachel to the murder victim in ways that aren’t clear to anyone, not even Rachel herself.
Breathless is the best word I can use to describe my physical state upon completing the book; uncertain is the best word I can use to describe my emotional one. Without further ado, here’s how it stands up to the Scale of Inclusivity:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt*
I did not find myself physically or emotionally uncomfortable by how the women characters were speaking, acting, or portrayed in this book. I was engaged by, and impressed by, the women characters.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
The book is written from three points of view, all of which are women’s. There is our main character, Rachel, in addition to the murder victim, Megan, and Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife (and former mistress) Anna. In addition, Rachel has frequent conversations with her roommate Cathy, and a few run-ins with a woman investigator working on the murder case.
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
The Girl on the Train passes the Bechdel test multiple times. Many of those conversations are between Rachel and her concerned/exasperated roommate Cathy, who gets angry with her drunken lifestyle but also offers a shoulder to cry on.
Recommended: “The Shining Girls” & “Huntress Moon”
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
I hated Rachel for 99% of this book. Rachel’s character is a case study in unreliable narration, and I bow down to Paula Hawkins’ skills as a writer for executing it so well. I never trusted Rachel’s instincts, or her decision making, and I certainly never trusted her memory. All these things make for a frustrating read as we try to pick apart the truth from Rachel’s observations, and unravel the mystery of Megan’s death.
At points, I was rooting for Rachel to let it go. She doesn’t need any more drama in her life, I thought, perfectly content to let this murder mystery end with Rachel attending AA meetings and mending fences with her former employer. But Hawkins doesn’t give us the satisfaction of seeing Rachel clean up her life. Instead she drags us maddeningly down the rabbit hole that Rachel is determined to travel, and we are forced to grit our teeth and have our minds chew on red herring after red herring.
It drove me crazy with anticipation! Ergo, it earned all points for this category 🙂
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
I assumed often that Rachel was reading her own emotional state into the murder of a woman she had never even met. All emotions Rachel had toward Megan originated from a fantasy reality she had conjured up during her daily commute past Megan’s house, and envying the seemingly perfect life she lived. In this fantasy world, Megan was “Jess” and her spouse, Scott, was “Jason”. Even after learning the couple’s real names, Rachel slipped back into referring to them as Jess and Jason on multiple occasions.
I looked down on Rachel. I had little sympathy for her. Yes her husband left her for another woman, but come on! You have to move on eventually. Instead of pity, I often felt disgust, which is exactly how many of the people Rachel interacted with treated her.
Rachel is clearly suffering emotionally on a very deep level, and trying to self-medicate with alcohol. She doesn’t feel she deserves anything from anyone, and she tries to make herself feel “more bad” because she doesn’t think she feels bad enough for all the things she’s done during her drunken black-outs. I allowed her own evaluation of herself to validate my own negative opinions of her.
Why didn’t I feel more pity toward Rachel? Why didn’t I trust her more? These are the questions I had to ask at the end of the book. So often women are not trusted to recall events correctly, and have their judgement questioned to the point they no longer trust themselves either. I realized I had fallen into that same line of thinking. I listened to other people’s opinions of Rachel, even though I was perceiving most of this through her point of view.
The author makes readers look within themselves and challenge their perceptions of alcoholism and emotional abuse. It reveals the multiple layers of judgement and criticism that victims, disproportionately women, have to dig out from.
For all these reasons, and more, The Girl on the Train gets a solid 15/15 points from me.
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.
6 thoughts on ““The Girl on the Train” is Intense”
Fails the reverse bechdel test, no two male characters have a conversation…just to be clear the point of the test is about gender equality, if a film with largely male protagonists is expected to pass with women having conversations about things other than men, the opposite should be true also?
I think this is a common misunderstanding of the Bechdel Test. The only purpose the test serves is to show how few movies pass the test. It is meant to highlight that not enough women are cast as named characters and given plots that center around themselves rather than the men in their lives. It is a very low bar assessment of how many women have been cast in a film. It is most definitely not a measure of equality. In addition, no one is saying all movies need to pass the Bechdel test, or even that a movie can only be good if it passes. We include it in our assessment of movies because shockingly few movies pass the test, making it a relevant discussion point. Even movies ostensibly telling a woman’s story often fail the test. The reason we do not have a male version of the test is because there is no shortage of films where two named male characters have a conversation about something other than women. My challenge to you would be to apply both a male and female version of the test to all the movies you watch going forward, to see how difficult the latter is, and how easy the former.
Also, this article is about the book not the movie, but the same reasoning can still apply.
I read this while on vacation and couldn’t put it down!
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Great review 🙂
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