Review of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ The book club choice for August.

Following it’s phenomenal success, I was very much looking forward to reading this book whilst on holiday.  On my flight, the lady beside me was reading it and she didn’t put it down once, which I thought was a great sign!

Now I understand why.   It is, in my opinion, a gripping read – a real page turner. So, to the story first. We first meet Rachel as she is returning home from work (by train) on a Friday afternoon.  She is the narrator, and we are immediately drawn into her world of drinking and daydreaming.  She has four cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic on the train and that is just for starters.  So, as a narrator, we see that she is pretty unreliable from the off.  However she is also very likable with all her human flaws and I felt I could identify with some of her feelings early on.  Rachel’s journey takes her past the back of her old house, where she lived with her now ex-husband Tom.  We soon discover she is divorced, as a result of her drinking, which is partly as a result of her not being able to conceive a child.

She loves the train journey and she begins a fantasy about a couple she watches as she passes by on the train every day.  She calls them Jason and Jess.  The story unfolds as she is a caught up in the real lives of Jason and Jess, who are actually called Megan and Scott.  The story takes off when Rachel reads in the paper that Megan has vanished, and she decides to tip off the police. She is convinced that Scott, who is the prime suspect,  would never harm his beloved wife.

But due to Rachel’s drinking, which is causing blackouts, irrationality and drunk dialing, the police dismiss her as a time waster. She has also been persecuting her ex-husband Tom and his wife Anna, by bombarding them with offensive messages.  She is an extremely flawed character and her alcoholic lifestyle is tragic, and leads to much confusion, both for herself and others.

As the story develops, and Rachel continues to try and remember what happened on a particular night, her life is intertwined with that of Scott, her ex-husband Tom and his wife Anna.

My thoughts on the book: starting with the good – if you can suspend judgement and get past some very unrealistic facts, this is an engrossing page turner and a perfect holiday read.  The structure is clever, the narrator, although flawed is very human, and I was certainly on her side, although mightily frustrated by her as well.

The bad – I just couldn’t believe how Rachel was seemingly able to give up the drink so easily whenever it suited her, and go from a complete wreck to a competent intelligent woman, running around solving mysteries like a detective. COMING UP, SPOILER ALERT:

I also felt that Tom, as a character, was unrealistically portrayed.  Surely some of the evil side of his character would have been in evidence before the end of the story?  He was overly nice and thus a somewhat unrealistic character in my opinion.   In saying that, I didn’t see it coming, so the author did a good job,by throwing in a few curve balls along the way (such as the red headed guy who was definitely suspicious to me, because I am obviously a bit too gullible!!)

The ugly – I felt the book was over dramatized in places.  There was a lot of biting of lips and wailing and clenching of fists.  I would have preferred a more subtle approach at times, although I do appreciate that the author was building tension.

To summarize, I would recommend this book. If you are willing to suspend judgement on reality and enjoy it for what it is, a great page turner of a thriller.

I look forward to hearing your views.

My thoughts on ‘Go Set a Watchman.’ First book club choice for August.

After all the hype and the many conflicting controversial reports on Harper Lee’s novel, I prepared to read it on my holidays and decided to try and read it without any  prior  judgement.  I ignored the critics and I am glad I did.

I may be one of the few, but I enjoyed this novel very much.  If, for one moment, we see it as independent of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I found it a very entertaining, humorous and thought provoking read.   If you don’t wish to know what happens, I suggest you stop reading now!

Scout, or Jean-Louise as she is now known, is returning to Maycomb to see her father Atticus Finch, who is now a 70 year old man.  She also has a beau in Maycomb called Henry (Hank).  Jean-Louise goes home and not only discovers how Maycomb and the people there have changed, but she also reflects a lot on the past.  SPOILER ALERT…..

We find out that Jem died suddenly aged 22 and Dill is off travelling.  Jean-Louise reminisces about her childhood and there are some extremely funny stories during this stroll down memory lane.  One relating to a missing bra and the other about Dill dressing up as a ghost and falling into a pond. Jean-Louise clearly misses her brother terribly and she is happy to tell Hank all about her wonderful childhood in Maycomb.

She then discovers that Hank and Atticus are attending meetings which involve some less that moral men and/or subjects, namely the Klan.  Without finding out more, Jean-Louise jumps to the wrong conclusions, (as did the media in my opinion) and assumes that her father has become a racist bigot overnight.  To my mind, those who believe Atticus is a racist in this book, have missed the point of the book entirely.  He is finding out more about what’s going on, so he can be prepared for any future trouble, as he tells Jean-Louise repeatedly.

This leads to my favourite part of the book, the moral ending where Jean-Louise and Atticus go at it hammer and tongs.  I felt it was well portrayed and strongly  argued by both characters.   Jean-Louise comes to see that Atticus is not a perfect human being, but he’s not a racist either, and that he still maintains and holds all the values that make him so important to her.    I felt she was the flawed character in this book.  She had written Atticus off, without even giving him a chance to defend himself and I hated her for that.  However she did eventually give him a chance to say his piece, and it certainly gave both her and us plenty to think about.   Atticus’s love for his daughter is unconditional but her love for him isn’t.  She expects him to be the perfect person that she put on that pedestal all those years ago, and she has to realize that he is still a great man, but his opinions and convictions may have changed somewhat with the changing times.    The relationship between them is as dynamic and all encompassing as ever, and I loved that.

OK, so there are many inaccuracies in the book, if you set it alongside Mockingbird.  We are told that Calpurnia, the Finches’ maid, has “run off the place” after Jem’s death; but then a few pages later we actually hear that “she returned to the Quarters in honourable retirement”. The worst offence is when they discuss the trial of Tom Robinson, the guilty verdict has suddenly become an acquittal, which is definitely strange given the outcome of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

However, I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment, and as a novel in it’s own right I thought it was well worth the read. I understand those who cannot see them as two separate novels, and for that reason they are highly critical of this book.  I do see their point.  In a perfect world ‘Go Set a Watchman’ would be a flawless sequel, but given the fact it was the original story and how it came to be published, that was highly unlikely.  However  I am glad it was published and I highly recommend it!