‘The Girl on the Train’ by British author Paula Hawkins is a psychological thriller that explains the story of Rachel Watson, a divorced and alcohol-addicted woman who takes the train daily and observes people from the window.
When the woman from her favorite couple goes missing, Rachel becomes involved in the investigation and tries to uncover what happened. However, she mixes details up and has a very unreliable account because of her drunkenness on the night of the incident.
‘The Girl on the Train’ Spoiler Free Summary
In this novel, Paula Hawkins tells the story of Rachel Watson, a woman in her early thirties struggling with alcohol, her inability to have a child, and the aftermath of a failed marriage.
Although she has lost her job, she takes the train daily to and from London. On her trip, she watches a couple she sees from the train window. She soon begins to imagine how perfect their life is.
Unfortunately, Rachel witnesses an event that changes her opinion, and when the woman of the couple goes missing, she thinks she can help solve the case with the information she has.
Unsatisfied with the efforts of the police to solve the case that turns out to be murder, she begins a personal investigation of the disappearance of Megan Hipwell.
While relentlessly probing the case, Rachel realizes her present and past life may be more linked to Megan than she initially thought. During this time, Rachel still drinks heavily and remains obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom Watson. She stalks his family on social media and calls on the phone during late hours. This eventually leads to unease between Tom and his new wife, Anna.
‘The Girl on the Train‘ is told from different perspectives, including Rachel’s, Megan’s, and Anna’s. The plot unfolds with Rachel eventually putting the pieces together, confronting, and killing Megan’s murderer.
‘The Girl on the Train’ Plot Summary
Warning – This article contains important details and spoilers
When the story begins, Rachel Watson is a recently divorced woman who lost her home and job while dealing with infertility, alcohol addiction, and depression. Although she does not work anymore, she occupies herself by riding the train into and out of London daily.
While on the train, Rachel watches the houses and imagines people’s lives. She particularly loves a couple she sees through the window. She names them “Jess” and “Jason.” Jess is blonde and pale, while Jason has dark hair and is good-looking.
In the first chapter, Rachel sees Jess on the terrace of her house and observes she looks sad. She also fights the urge to look at her former house but cannot help herself. She remembers sending her ex-husband a text confessing her love for him but comforts herself because she has done worse things while drunk. When her ex, Tom, calls back to tell her to seek help by attending some AA meetings, Rachel drops the call, pulls the bandage off her finger, and presses her thumbnail into the injury.
The next chapter introduces us to Megan Hipwell. She is Jess in Rachel’s narration. Megan is a nanny for Tom’s child. Megan’s husband becomes hopeful she would be interested in having a baby since she is around a child, but Megan misses working at an art gallery. She eventually quits her job as a nanny and lies she was getting sexual advances. Realizing Megan’s sleeping routine is strained, Scott suggests a therapist. Megan meets her therapist and finds herself fascinated.
When Rachel stumbles on Megan kissing another man, she is disappointed. At home, she becomes hurt when she hears Cathy cleaning the house because she remembers she usually spent the morning with Tom. Walking into Rachel’s vomit on the stairs annoys Cathy greatly, and she tells Rachel she has four weeks to find a new apartment.
Megan arrives one evening to find Scott searching through her computer for signs of infidelity. She recalls her therapist, Dr. Abdic suggested she keeps a diary of her feelings, but she doesn’t because Scott is always snooping. The following Saturday, Megan asks her friend, Tara, to cover for her while she meets with a lover at a hotel.
Rachel has an accident and needs stitching. During the process, the doctor notices a bump on her head, and she has flashes of trying to avoid a blow. She was drunk when this happened, so she is unsure of her memories. However, she remembers she had the accident after she read of Megan’s disappearance in a news article.
The novel continues to provide Megan’s perspective even when she is confirmed dead. Although she is grateful for the doctor-patient confidentiality of therapy, she is reluctant to divulge her past before she met Scott. Eventually, she opens up to Abdic. She also invites him for a drink. When he declines, she kisses him on the lips.
Rachel continues to read about Megan’s disappearance and discovers some facts. Cathy sends a voice message guiltily stating that Rachel can stay as long as she wants. Later on, she recalls how her inability to conceive a child led to her addiction to alcohol and the failure of her marriage. She sends Scott an email claiming to be an acquaintance of Megan’s with some vital information.
During an interrogation, Rachel tries to remember what happened on the night Megan got missing. Although she was present at the scene, she has a distorted account of what happened. Provided with pictures to identify who Megan was kissing the other day, she points to Megan’s therapist. Scott Hipwell replies to Rachel’s email and asks to meet.
The next chapter introduces Anne Watson, Tom’s wife. She returns from shopping to find her husband reading an email from Rachel and asks when they will be free from her stalking.
When Rachel visits Scott, she is shocked that the house has the same layout as the one she lived in with her ex-husband. She confesses that she saw Megan kissing another man. He believes her, and after identifying Megan’s lover, he asks her to leave. Afterward, he calls to appreciate her efforts and talk about the quarrel before Megan got missing.
Megan worries that her lover has not kept in touch. She goes for her therapy appointment and asks if Abdic is emotionally attracted to her. When she begins to yell, he tries to quieten her, and she kisses him hard on the mouth and returns home.
While on their way for a family hangout, they run into Rachel. Anne tries to protect her child, and Tom suggests they return home. When Tom tries to discuss the arrest of Megan’s therapist, Anne hardly engages but is more concerned Rachel is trying to break into their house. Tom reassures her, but she wants to inform the police.
After a while, Kamal Abdic is released because there is insufficient evidence that he murdered Megan. Rachel is shocked and continues to drink. When she calls Scott, he accuses her of lying and hangs up. Rachel calls Tom and tries to discuss the events leading up to Megan’s vanish. Tom warns her to stay away from Scott.
Megan returns to Kamal Abdic to confess all that happened in her past, including how she unknowingly drowned her child.
The next chapter follows Rachel going to therapy to recover her memory. She sets an appointment with Kamal Abdic and is surprised at how easy it is to open up to him.
When Anna Watson sees the headline claiming Megan was a child killer, she berates herself for employing her as a nanny. When Tom returns, she insists they leave the neighborhood, but Tom refuses.
Spotting Rachel coming out of Scott’s house again, Anna talks to Tom about it. He calls Rachel and begs her to stay away from Scott. Anna starts to miss the days she worked as a real estate agent. Later, she sees Rachel across the street looking at the house and confronts Tom because he promised to make her stop.
Meanwhile, Scott invites Rachel to the house and holds her hostage for a while because he feels betrayed by her actions. Rachel reports to the police about his molestation, but they don’t believe her.
Unhappy because she foolishly thought Scott and even Tom cared for her, Rachel experiences a flashback where she sees Tom nearing her in the underpass.
After another fight about Rachel, Anne stumbles on Tom’s gym bag. She searches and finds Megan’s phone. After reading some texts, she throws the phone over the fence and follows Tom to bed.
Rachel is finally able to organize her thoughts, and she realizes Tom gaslighted her a lot even while they were married. This was easy because she mostly drank into a stupor and lost her memory. Afraid because he murdered Megan, she goes to his house to save Anna.
Anna opens the door and barely acknowledges her. Rachel says they should leave, but she refuses. As they converse, Rachel exposes the deceitful and lying Tom Watson. Although Anna says she does not believe Rachel, she feels uncomfortable. They begin to revisit Tom’s lies.
Tom returns home to find them together. Rachel confronts him, and he tells Anna to disregard all she says. Anna states that she found Megan’s phone in his gym bag and knows everything.
To this, Tom gives a hurtful explanation of why he cheated on Rachel and Anna. He also confesses to killing Megan. She was pregnant, but he did not want to take responsibility for the child.
Rachel tries to run for the door, but Tom hits her on the head, drags her back into the house, and starts to beat her. When she runs out again, he runs after her, and she drives a corkscrew into his neck.
Although Anna calls the ambulance, Tom dies. Leaving out how she drove the corkscrew deep enough to kill Tom, Anna tells the police Rachel killed him in self-defense. Soon, Rachel is set free.
The novel ends with Rachel sobering up after sharing one last drink with Cathy and taking a nice vacation.
What does the ending of ‘The Girl on the Train’ mean?
The ending of ‘The Girl on the Train’ reveals Megan’s murderer. Rachel finally recalls what happened on the night Megan got killed. The conclusion wraps up the story and solves the mystery of the book. Justice gets served as the manipulative and murderous Tom does not get away with his crime.
What is the main conflict in this book?
The main conflict in ‘The Girl on the Train’ is the murder of Megan Hipwell. At the start, Megan’s disappearance is linked to a lover Rachel thinks she eloped with. However, as she becomes intensely obsessed with the case, she realizes unpleasant secrets from Megan’s life and her own.
What is the significance of the train in ‘The Girl on the Train’?
The train is significant in ‘The Girl on the Train.’ While on the train, Rachel studies people and houses along the tracks. The train runs from the suburbs of London to the center of the city. Rachel’s involvement in Megan’s investigation was possible because of her cultivated obsession while watching her from the train.
What are the major plot twists in ‘The Girl on the Train’?
Megan’s death is the first major plot twist in ‘The Girl on the Train.’ This rules out the perception that she was with her lover. Also, the revelation that Rachel was at the crime scene quickly made her a suspect because of her mental illness. Finally, Tom’s manipulations and involvement with Megan took a surprising and unexpected turn.