”Yesterday---sensible, clearheaded, right-thinking---I decided I must accept that my part in this story was over. But my better angels lost again, defeated by drink, by the person I am when I drink. Drunk Rachel sees no consequences, she is either excessively expansive and optimistic or wrapped up in hate. She has no past, no future. She exists purely in the moment. Drunk Rachel...lies.”
There are certainly worse ways to spend your day than riding an S stock train into London.
Rachel rides the train into London every day to keep up the pretense that she has a job. The truth is she lost her job months ago when she showed up to work inebriated, not just buzzed or mildly intoxicated, but sloppy drunk. She can’t exactly put her finger on when she first started to drink too much. It was around the time when she was trying to get pregnant with her now ex-husband Tom.
He impregnated his mistress instead.
”The dagger in my heart twists, round and round and round.”
Anna, slender little Anna, is now living in her house with her husband with a child that should have been hers. Rachel used to be attractive, curvy, and pretty, but now the curves have lost their buoyancy, and her face has become puffy. She is melting down into someone unrecognizable. The pain that used to be internalized is now manifesting itself into a grotesque mask. She drinks to escape. ”When I drink, I hardly sleep at all. I pass out cold for an hour or two, then I wake, sick with fear, sick with myself. If I have a day when I don’t drink, that night I fall into the heaviest of slumbers, a deep unconsciousness, and in the morning I cannot wake properly, I cannot shake sleep, it stays with me for hours, sometimes for days.” Drinking doesn’t work, not drinking is worse.
Sometimes she blacks out.
The problem with THAT is she loses so much control over what she does or what she remembers. When she blacks out she has to believe what others tell her. This is when she writes painfully embarrassing emails to her ex-husband. This is when she is capable of doing something that she would never consider doing sober.
The train takes Rachel by her old life every day. The subdivision with the beautiful house that she thought would be hers forever is part of her daily view. She can look right into the backyards of the homes, and there she starts to notice a couple, a perfect couple who seem to love each other. She projects a life onto them, even giving them names, and starts to look forward to any glimpse of them that will allow her to add to the fairy tale narrative that she has been assembling about them on her daily rides into work. Then one day she sees something that brings the whole house of cards tumbling down.
We can look at other people and think their lives are wonderful. They must be leading so much more successful and meaningful lives than we do. The problem of course is that we know everything about our lives. Every failure is duly noted on a spooling list. Our successes are tempered by our own feelings of inadequacies. Every debilitating slight to our self-esteem etches away at the foundation of our ability to see beyond the things that have went wrong. What we have to remind ourselves of is that, though people may seem to be leading perfect lives, everybody has problems. Don’t fool yourself, and don’t let them fool you either. We are all doomed to be disappointed, to falter, to make mistakes, and sometimes destroy ourselves. Scott and Megan, as it turns out, are no different. Her mythical couple have names as it turns out, not the ones she chose for them.
When Megan disappears Rachel realizes that she saw something.
The problem is she is an irresponsible drunk.
This book is certainly an ode to one of my favorite films Rear Window. (For those youngsters out there, you might be more familiar with the film Disturbia.) Jimmy Stewart is incapacitated with a broken leg, but Rachel may actually be more incapacitated by her drinking. Rachel is the definition of an unreliable narrator. I didn’t what to believe her, not necessarily because I felt she was lying, but because she was so wasted most of the time that even her version of sober might be my version of being buzzed. The characters in this book are not very endearing. As we learn more about them we find less and less to like about them. Be warned about these characters if you are a reader that must like the people you read about.
The plot certainly reminded me of an Agatha Christie. I often found myself munching down on a red herring served on a Ritz Cracker and washed down with a decent Merlot. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the modern noir novels of Peter Swanson, but I don’t think I’m going to be forgetting this book any time soon. If that proves to be the case, I might even need to bump it one star.
There is talk of Emily Blunt starring in the upcoming movie which could lend the project some extra attention. This book, with this plot, should translate well to screen. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to wait for the movie. Paula Hawkins has laid out a script that shouldn’t need much tucking or trimming for the big screen.
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