The Girl on the Train

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Publisher: Double Day

Release Date: January 2015

Source: Amazon

Rating: 4.5/5

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night.  Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck.  She’s even started to feel like she knows them.  Jess and Jason, she calls them.  Their life — as she sees it — is perfect.  Not unlike the one she recently lost. (Goodreads)

When Megan, the woman in that house, goes missing, Rachel takes it upon herself to tell the police what she has seen during her commutes into London.  As an alcoholic whose drinking causes blackouts and memory loss, she becomes an unreliable witness and narrator.  But are her claims really all that dubious?

Paula Hawkins masterfully writes a suspenseful thriller told through the intertwined narratives of three women, each of them just as unreliable as the next.  And despite the number of narrators in this novel, we discover each of their histories and how they all link together on Blenheim Road.  Furthermore, Hawkins has a real talent for timing.  The novel lulls just when I thought I had it figured out, then suddenly she surprises with a new revelation, making it even more difficult to fit the pieces of this strange and mysterious puzzle together.

Every character in this novel is horrible.  They are liars, cheaters, secretive, scheming, abusive, and yet the novel makes a great case study in character development.  Reading the story through the eyes of each character and seeing them through the eyes of the other narrators gave me a whole new perspective on their character, their reasoning, and their problems.  I gained a new, different sense of understanding.  I began to see, and at times, empathize, with the reasoning behind their actions no matter how wrong or troubling they may have been.

This was a real page turner.  I read it mostly during my own train commuting and I would be lost in the mystery of pages before me for hours at a time, distracted only by my own nervousness of missing my stop.  My only set back while reading this novel, however, was that I sometimes became confused with whose perspective I was reading.  But I seem to do that whenever I read multiple-narrative novels, so it might just be me.

I highly recommend this to anyone in need of a good psychological thriller, because Paula Hawkins delivers in The Girl on the Train.  Literally seconds after reading the last pages of the novel, I gave it to my friend to read — that’s how much I loved it.

 

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Go Set a Watchman

Title: Go Set a Watchman

Author: Harper Lee

Publisher: Harper Collins

Release Date: July 2015

Source: Chapters

Rating: 4/5

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Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her.  Memories form her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.

When news of Harper Lee’s novel first came out a few years ago, there was a lot of controversy surrounding it involving her rights and the protection of a novel she never wanted to publish.  Ultimately, it rendered me reluctant to purchase and read it, but as time wore on, I realized that I actually just really wanted to read it and find out what it was all about.

Essentially, the novel takes place several years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It follows Scout’s, or I should say Jean Louise’s, attempt to get through life as a modern woman.  The novel revolves mostly around her visit to Maycomb County, during which she finds out many of the town’s dirty little secrets, destroying her own disillusioned view of her father.

Honestly, reading this novel I found myself completely taken aback at the serious revelations and allegations that came out surrounding her own family, and felt completely disheartened.  Atticus is held on such a high pedestal in To Kill a Mockingbird, and this just crushed me.  But I guess, as the saying goes, never meet your heroes.

Despite this, the novel was wonderfully written in true Harper Lee style.  A classic, for sure.  I felt Jean Louise’s struggles as a modern woman in a small town very telling of society and our culture as a whole (even though I live nowhere near the American South) even in this day and age.  She is condemned by her family and community for being who she is, a woman rising in success.  Condemned because she chose to “abandon” her father for a career in a big city.  Her inner struggle between caring for her father, marrying a man she loves but could never make happy and be happy in return, and her independent, successful and fruitful life in New York.

These are issues that I feel women are still struggling with today.  Home versus professional life.  Dependence versus independence.  Family versus career.  Although the times are changing, society still puts so much pressure on women to abide to gender roles and morals.  Harper Lee addresses these issues, as well as many others also explored in her first novel, that I feel Go Set a Watchman will become an iconic, timeless classic novel in its own time.

The Secret Garden

Title: The Secret Garden

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Publisher: Penguin Threads

Release Date: November 2011 (first published 1911)

Source: Mayersche Buchhandlung

Rating: 5/5

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When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets.  The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up.  And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.  The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape.  Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key.  One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in.  Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life? (Goodreads)

The Secret Garden quickly became my favourite story when I first saw the film as a young child.  Ever since, I’ve watched at least once a year.  It’s my go-to movie and yet, I’ve never read the novel until now.

Having seen the movie, I knew the story of Mary Lennox.  Of course while reading, my imagination conjured up images of the actors, of the movie sets, and all of that, but the novel filled in all of the gaps the film had left empty.  Everything we don’t see or know from watching the movie is answered and addressed in the novel.  I found that there was an added depth to the story.  The story, the characters, the world of Misselthwaite Manor, is filled in with rich, lively detail that is not necessarily available in the movie.

This review seems to be more of a comparison between the novel and the film, but in all seriousness, I don’t see why you wouldn’t love this novel.  It is such a great story, albeit a sad one at first.  Burnett’s writing reignites the light of childhood and your imagination is able to run wild with Mary and Dickon through the moors of Misselthwaite.  The language might be a little tricky because a lot of it is written to imitate the Yorkshire accent of the community, but you get used to it really quickly.

Overall, reading The Secret Garden as an adult was a great experience.  It felt like an old friend, evoked a sense of nostalgia and familiarity I’ve rarely experienced.  It reminded me of the magic, innocence, and whimsicality of childhood.  It was a fantastic, easy and quick read.  How could you say no?