The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainIf you’ve talked to me about books any time in the last month or so, you’ve probably heard me ask the following questions: Did you read and like Gone Girl? Were you okay with the fact that almost everyone in that book was an awful human being?

And then, if the answer is yes, an exclamation: You should totally read this book The Girl on the Train that’s coming out really really soon!

Really really soon is finally now, so seriously, if you liked Gone Girl, look into this one.

The story starts off innocuously enough. Our main narrator, Rachel, rides the train into and out of London every day, and passes by a house on the tracks where she sees a lovely young couple and imagines their wonderful life together. But then, one day, she sees the wife kissing a man who is not her husband, and then shortly afterward Rachel sees this woman’s picture all over the media on account of she’s gone missing. Rachel is sure that this mystery man had something to do with it, so she decides to go to the police and tell them what she knows. But as she gets more involved with the investigation, we (both the reader and Rachel) learn that Rachel’s life isn’t exactly what it seems.

It’s absolutely fascinating. Rachel is a super unreliable narrator, and we find out very quickly that she’s lying about her reasons for being on the train, lying about her interest in the missing girl’s neighborhood, lying about how much alcohol she drinks — really just lying to us and herself about a lot of things. We learn some of this through her admissions, but we learn even more when the narration switches over to her ex-husband’s new wife, Anna, and even more than that when we get narration from the missing girl, Megan. All three ladies’ lives are intertwined, more than any of them really knows, and the pieces from each story they tell add up to an even spookier story than it looks like from the start.

We already know I’m a sucker for unreliable, multiple, and awful narrators, so clearly this book was made with me in mind. But it’s a really great work of suspense, with danger at every turn and terrible decisions being made and that sense of never knowing which way is up in the narrative. And for all that the narrators are terrible people, I really wanted things to work out for all of them. It’s hard to talk about any specific part of the book without spoiling how the story got to that point, so really you should just go read this now and come back and then we will talk about ALL THE THINGS.

I will say that the ending is weak compared to the rest of the book, with things wrapping up just too nicely, but I think for most people that’s a welcome change from the end of Gone Girl, which ending I liked way more than anyone else. For me, if I don’t know what the heck is happening in the rest of the book, it only makes sense not to know what’s going to happen after the book ends you know? That’s probably just me.

Anyway. Go read it. Do it.

Recommendation: For and possibly only for people who like unreliable, multiple, and/or awful narrators, because that’s pretty much the entire book.

Rating: 9/10

Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst

Lost and FoundI really enjoyed Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel when I read it a few months ago, and so I was excited to read her second book for my book club this month. But as it sometimes happens, I completely forgot when my book club was supposed to be meeting and only managed to get the book from the library a few days in advance. Oops! I was out and about basically the entire time in between getting the book and talking about it, but thankfully this is a quick and fun read so I managed to finish it up with, like, twenty hours to spare!

I was basically sold on this book when I heard it was based on The Amazing Race, which I watched religiously many many years ago and still will tune into an episode of here and there. There’s something about running around the world and solving puzzles that appeals to me, and if I led a more telegenic life I might have tried out for the show.

Which, segue, is what this book is totally about — the reality behind reality shows, from picking the most interesting contestants to staging drama and fights to what a terrible idea it is to go on a reality show. I don’t know if Parkhurst did any field research into reality show production, but I would totally believe her take on it!

If you’re not a big fan of reality shows, that’s okay, because the meat of the book is the interactions between the characters who have found themselves running around the world together. The main focus is on the mother-daughter team, whose perfect-for-TV drama is that the daughter birthed a baby without her mother knowing she was pregnant; the ex-gay husband-and-wife team who may not be as ex- as they would like; and a former child star looking to game the reality show to make her comeback. It’s fantastic tabloid fodder, but there’s also a truth to all of these characters and their problems that make them sympathetic, if only to the tiniest degree in some cases.

And did I mention the book was fun? It gets a bit heavy-handed at times, especially with the ex-gay subplot that seemed never to end, but it absolutely makes up for it with the digs at TV culture, the travel-inspiring descriptions of the game locations, and the absurd realities of the game. It’s also thought-provoking, if only in the sense that I have been wondering for the past several days, “Why DID the Howells ever go on that three-hour tour? And bring so many clothes?” Seriously. Seriously.

Recommendation: For fans and also not-fans of reality television, or for people who enjoy parrots?

Rating: 8/10

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlSo, true story, I haven’t read a single review of this book yet. I’ve seen about a million of them in my Google Reader, but enough of them have started out with a “Seriously, don’t read this review until you’ve read the book” that I’ve just been skipping them all. I realize this is weird and kind of not the point of, like, blogging, but seriously. If you want to experience the full power of this book, pretend you were never here, go get the book, read it, and then come back. The internet will wait for you!

Oh, and let me also note for the record that I did not care for Sharp Objects, Flynn’s first novel, and so I didn’t read her second one, but I am really glad I gave her another chance with this one. If you were squicked out by the more graphic parts of Sharp Objects, rest assured that you will see almost none of that here.

Okay, so, now that you’ve read the book or have decided you don’t care about ancient Egyptian curses or whatever, let’s get down to it.

OMFG. This book.

So the basic premise is that there’s a dude called Nick married to a chick called Amy, and they’re not terribly happy, and one day Amy goes missing and it doesn’t look very good for her or for Nick, on account of, you know, it’s always the husbands who do these things. But you don’t have to take television crime procedurals’ word for it, because Nick happens to be the narrator of half the book and he certainly isn’t making himself look innocent.

The other half is narrated by Amy, or at least by Amy’s diary, starting from when she met Nick and moving toward the day of her disappearance. The two narratives trade back and forth in a delightful fashion, with each chapter’s ending tying in somehow to the next chapter’s beginning, and of course the two sides tend to disagree with each other. The only thing the reader can be sure of is that this is not a terribly good marriage and that Nick is totally hiding something.

And so I spent the whole first section of the book being like, Nick did it. He totally did it. Maybe he did it. Did he do it? Maybe he didn’t do it? No, he totally did it. Did he? He did.

And then.

And then.

And then out of nowhere comes a second section, and it was like, so here’s what REALLY happened, and I was like, … I may have shouted “No effing way!” at my husband, whom I was keeping apprised of the situation, and he may have been like, “Wait, what?” when I explained. It is an interesting development, is what I am saying.

And then the book becomes basically the greatest thing since Dial M for Murder, by which I mean it becomes Dial M for Murder, with the whole knowing what really happened and watching the investigation and wondering whether the culprit will get away with it or get caught and you don’t know quite who to root for because on the one hand, getting away with it, and on the other hand, how can you let someone get away with that?

And THEN there’s the third section, in which absolutely ridiculous and insane things happen and part of me is like, what, and the other part of me is like, well, could it really have ended any other way?

To sum up: this book is batshit crazy and I kind of love it.

Rating: 10/10