This psychological thriller novel ‘The Girl on the Train‘ by Paula Hawkins, was published in 2015. The novel follows the story of Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcee who takes the train to work every day, passing by the same houses and observing the lives of their inhabitants.
Like many authors, Hawkins takes bits of people’s personalities and infuses them into characters. The major and minor characters interact with each other in various ways throughout the novel. Their connections and motivations are explored in depth as the plot unfolds.
In the beginning, Rachel is a divorced, alcoholic woman who recently lost her job. Still, she rides trains to and from London to distract herself from her loneliness and grief.
In this novel, Rachel is an unreliable narrator. Her sessions of alcoholism usually lead to confusion and blackouts. When she regains consciousness, she fights to differentiate reality from her perceptions.
Rachel also struggles with guilt and embarrassment. Haunted by guilt and shame over infertility and her struggles with alcoholism, she feels responsible for the end of her marriage to Tom Watson. Her guilt and shame contribute to her low self-esteem and self-destructive behavior.
Her loneliness leads to an obsession with the lives of the people she sees on the train, particularly a couple she nicknames “Jess and Jason.” They live at 23 Blenheim Road, down the street she used to live with her ex-husband, Tom Watson.
One day, she sees the woman in the couple kissing someone else. She is triggered because her ex cheated and eventually married his mistress, leaving her heartbroken. Later, she wakes up to bumps and injuries but cannot remember what transpired to cause the bruises. She finally recollects that the young woman she saw cheating, Megan Hipwell, is missing. Rachel’s inability to recall what happened when Megan disappeared leads her to believe she was involved in a crime.
Her obsession with people, including her ex-husband and his wife, propels her to make impulsive and reckless decisions that have consequences for herself and others. As she strives to put the truth together, she discovers she has sunk into depths of hopelessness and misery. She also realizes her seemingly perfect ex manipulated and lied to her during and after their marriage.
Despite her flaws, Rachel is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to Megan. Her desire for redemption fuels her determination. She also wants to prove she can overcome addiction and be a better person.
Eventually solving the case, she tries to rescue another victim-to-be but kills the murderer in self-defense.
Megan Hipwell (Jess)
Like Rachel, Megan is also a complex character. Trauma from her past life haunts her and makes her impulsive. She is a young and sensitive woman who is unpredictable and lies frequently. She often keeps secrets from those around her, making it difficult to gain trust.
At the beginning of the novel, she goes missing. The plot follows the investigation of her disappearance. With flashbacks, the reader gets information about Megan’s life before and after she goes missing.
She is married to the affectionate but domineering Scott Hipwell. Soon, she becomes frustrated with the requirements of family life. She does not consider motherhood, much to the disappointment of her husband.
When Scott suggests therapy to help improve her sleeping habits, she begins sessions with Dr. Kamal Abdic. She becomes attracted to him and eventually confesses her traumatic past.
In her confession, she has a daughter from a teenage relationship. Accidentally, she drowns the child. Unable to find closure, she chases sexual excitement to escape her emotions. Her search for thrill prevents her from settling into a stable lifestyle or relationship. She changes jobs frequently and has a history of infidelity.
While making countless sexual advances at Kamal Abdic, she begins an affair with Tom Watson. Tom is the father of Evie, a child she used to babysit. Megan’s traumatic experiences, including her brother’s death, leave her anxious, desperate, and depressed.
When she turns out pregnant, she informs Tom, but he refuses to take responsibility. Her disappearance at the beginning eventually leads to the revelation of her death.
As the tragic figure in the novel, she is a deeply damaged woman who cannot find a way to heal. Her story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring emotional needs and the importance of seeking help when struggling with mental health issues.
She is the third narrator that Hawkins uses to push the plot of the novel. She is a minor character with a significant role.
She is married to Tom Watson and is deeply protective of her husband and child. A mistress turned wife, Anna feels insecure about Rachel’s constant interference in their family life. She feels uncomfortable with Rachel roaming around the house and calling Tom at odd hours.
Anna devotes time to domesticity to divert her attention from her actual desires and fears. She misses her work as a real estate agent and does not fully trust Tom. She lies to herself constantly and tries to convince herself her only problem is Rachel Watson.
When her former nanny, Megan, disappears, she is concerned about the inability of the police to expose the culprit. Self-absorbed and concerned with public validation, she struggles to be happy. She also hates the location of her house but chooses to stay because her husband insists.
Anna’s character serves as a foil to Rachel, who is unstable and unreliable due to her struggles with alcoholism and her obsession with Tom. Anne’s faux confidence and put-together demeanor highlight Rachel’s flaws and make her seem even more vulnerable in comparison.
When she stumbles on Tom’s gym bag containing Megan’s phone, she is devastated but does not confront Tom. When Rachel visits to expose the truth about Megan’s death, although she knows it is true, she refuses to believe it to protect her family’s “perfect” status. When Tom confesses to the murder of Megan, she chooses to support his side of the story.
Eventually, however, she joins Rachel in killing Tom.
He is the ex-husband of the protagonist, Rachel Watson, and the current husband of Anna Watson. Initially, he is a handsome, charming man into real estate and serious about his family. As the story progresses, however, Tom is exposed to be a manipulative, dishonest, and dangerous antagonist.
While married to Rachel, he gaslights her into believing he is a victim whenever she gets intoxicated. Tom accuses her of physical and verbal abuse. However, he gets exposed as a liar and manipulator.
All that time, he was the one who brutally abused her when she was drunk, confident she would not remember. His infidelity and abuse of women eventually lead to the breakdown of his marriage to Anna.
Tom is heavily involved in the novel’s mystery, which revolves around the disappearance of Megan Hipwell. While married to Anna, Tom begins an affair with Megan and is the last person to see her alive. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Tom’s involvement in the case is more complex than it initially appears.
When Rachel remembers all the details of the night Megan was killed and confronts Tom, he confesses to killing Megan, then attacks her. He gets killed by Rachel in self-defense.
Scott Hipwell (Jason)
Scott is the husband of Megan Hipwell, who goes missing early on in the story. He becomes emotionally downcast when Megan disappears.
When the novel begins, he is an IT professional devoted and caring, yet controlling of Megan. He monitors her whereabouts and communication. Scott’s domineering nature fuels her yearning to flee her marriage and London. Scott’s love and dedication to Megan and her flippancy and fear of motherhood spurn the need to be overprotective within him.
When Megan dies, he is a primary suspect. As he tries to uncover the truth about his wife’s death, he has to confront his shortcomings as a husband. While working with the police to unravel the mystery surrounding Megan’s disappearance, he begins to piece together the events leading up to her death. He comes to a greater understanding of his role in their relationship.
He accepts support from Rachel when she reaches out to him as an acquaintance of Megan. One day, they drink too much and have sex. The comfort Scott feels in Rachel’s presence dies when he realizes she lied about knowing Megan. He harasses her and holds her hostage for a while before letting her leave.
He is a Muslim migrant from Bosnia. He works as a therapist in Witney. When he meets Megan Hipwell, she is distressed and fidgety. He tries to help untangle the trauma of her past life and the effects on her current life.
Kamal is a quiet, non-judgemental man who is easy to confide in. Soon, Megan develops a romantic attraction for him. He resists her advances, stating it was natural to feel attracted to him because he was helping her work through her struggles.
Kamal gets arrested briefly as a suspect when Rachel identifies him as Megan’s lover. When the police cannot provide enough evidence against him, however, they set him free.
Rachel begins therapy with him to restore her memory and investigate his role. During her sessions, she confides in him about her struggle with infidelity, her attachments to alcohol, and her failed marriage with Tom.
An empathetic and meditative man, Kamal Abdic is a victim of wrong perception in ‘The Girl on the Train.’
How does Rachel’s character impact ‘The Girl on the Train?’
Rachel Watson is the protagonist of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ She is a complicated character with a tumultuous past, and her actions and emotions drive the plot. The complexity and imperfections of Rachel make her relatable and compelling. Her struggles with addiction, guilt, and shame make her a sympathetic character, while her obsessive behavior and unreliable narration add suspense and tension to the plot.
What image does Anna Watson portray in the novel?
Anna Watson portrays the image of a woman who is eager to overlook her husband’s mistakes to protect her supposedly perfect family life. Her presence adds perplexity to the story and helps to broaden the knowledge of the characters in the novel.
What is Rachel’s relationship with Tom, and how does it evolve throughout the novel?
Rachel and Tom were once married, but Tom had an affair with Anna, which led to their divorce. Rachel is devastated and becomes obsessed with Tom.
As the story progresses, however, it becomes apparent that Rachel’s memories of her marriage to Tom are not entirely accurate. In the end, Rachel’s efforts to uncover the truth about Megan’s disappearance lead to a confrontation between them. Eventually, Tom gets killed in self-defense.
How does the character of Scott help sustain the novel’s mystery?
Unpredictable, fiery, and fighting with feelings of loss, Scott’s fluctuating demeanor makes him inconsistent and impossible to trust. His character plays an active role in maintaining the mystery of the novel.