For Book Club this month, Lori and I decided to do “Freestyle.” This means that we’ve read different books; I chose The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This was one that Lori didn’t want to read, so I decided to do it on my own.
Questions come from LitLovers. Spoiler alert is in affect.
1. We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosy, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?
I think a lot of us, even though we might be happy with our own lives, like to imagine what it would be like to lead a different one sometimes. It is definitely more extreme in Rachel than in the average person, though – others might imagine things, but she actually acts on them. As far as what’s different about her, I think it’s something as simple as her alcoholism taking its toll. She might not be this “crazy” if she wasn’t a drunk.
2. How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?
I’m not sure I would’ve thought much about a pile of clothes on the ground. While it could be sinister, it isn’t automatically so. Therefore, I don’t think I would have done anything.
3. A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it?
It turns out that a lot of her memories aren’t so “false” after all. It seemed to me that her bigger problem was the inability to remember anything at all, not the fact that her memories were incorrect, especially near the end of the book.
I think memories can lie, yes. A lot of the things we “remember” from our own childhoods are actually the memories of our parents, and though they often mean well, parents will often smudge the truth to make themselves out in the best light. Therefore, our memories are lies woven by others in some instances.
4. One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story?
Rachel’s inability to have children is the entire reason for her breakdown. In a book full of lies, that much is made very clear. If she’d been able to have a child, I don’t think she would have lost her mind, become an alcoholic, and potentially been left by Tom (although, based on how he turned out, that last bit is up for debate). Outside of that one example, I’m not sure the “topic of motherhood” is necessarily a driving point in the story.
5. Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?
In a very basic sense, Rachel is successful in manipulating people’s assumptions about her. At least at the beginning. Her roommate, Cathy, has no idea that Rachel had lost her job a long time before the novel begins, for example. Her riding the train and pretending to be a commuter was a successful ruse. As far as the rest of the questions, I’m not really a good person to answer those; I don’t make assumptions about characters. I tend to read a book with nothing in mind, and I let the author take me on the journey they wish to tell.
Lori read what looks like a really interesting book: Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz. I hope you’ll read her post to learn more about it.
This month, Lori and I are back to reading the same book. We’ll be working through The Whistler by John Grisham. He’s my very favorite author, so I’m excited about this one.