Girl on Train: Read or Watch First?

The Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

When Hollywood brings a blockbuster novel to the screen, you’re left with a dilemma: read it first or see the movie and then read it?

Here’s some guidance that may help you, and it’s pretty simple. If knowing the ending of a movie before you see it spoils the entire movie for you, by all means wait to read the book. You’ll want to read the book for a couple of reasons: to see how the writer pulled of the idea in plain old words, and to see if or how the filmmakers departed from the book.

However, if you couldn’t read the book after knowing how it ends, then read it first. If you are the type who enjoys conjuring up images of the characters without the benefit of a casting director making the selections for you, read first. If a suspense novel loses all meaning for you if you know the ending, again, read it first. And, if you like opining about the screenwriter’s and director’s adaptation choices, enhance your fun by reading the source material first.

Now, as for the novel, which we read some time ago (and, yes, we look forward to seeing the movie), Hawkins’s thriller makes for a good page turner. But too much of it, unfortunately, lulls you into a soporific state. Had she sliced out at least thirty pages, the otherwise engaging story would have moved at a pace that makes for a really superior page turner, not one that you want to jump to the end of it and be done with while your eyes remain open. Hopefully, the filmmakers picked up the pace.

Which leads us to the other weakness: a disappointing conclusion that is overly wordy, pitifully unrealistic (for a novel playing with realistic psychological problems), and entirely predictable, despite some red herrings strewn about the neighborhood. Again, will the filmmakers tinker with the ending, adding some realism to it? One can only hope.

However, there is much to admire about Hawkins’s effort, and these are good reasons to read the novel. She has a nice, clear style that is both understated and readable. Personally, we enjoyed how she organized the tale, by parts of the day, and how he worked one narrator’s version in the past to catch up with the other’s, the girl in question, Rachel’s, in the present. This adds intrigue while compelling the reader along.

But even more, Hawkins does a terrific job rendering Rachel’s broken psyche, fractured by alcohol, self-doubt, low self-worth, and psychological abuse. This is what makes the novel and probably what propelled it to the top of bestseller lists. Hawkins’ treatment is the best reason to read the novel, and probably the reason an actress the caliber of Emily Blunt found the part compelling.

Which is why, even though we expressed some (serious) reservations, we can still recommend it.  Because the way Hawkins handles and conveys Rachel’s distress is worth your reading time. And because we believe many will identify with at least one of Rachel’s issues, perhaps more. Just, if the ending had been more in keeping with the novel it caps. w/c

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