I have a habit of binge reading popular novels (just to see what the fuss is about – you know, like how I listen to Justin Bieber – totes ironically of course…yes *shifts eyes). I want to demonstrate something in this post – that anyone can be an author these days if you have a passable plot.
OK, before you indulge me with my test, the book. The Girl on the Train is a thriller novel that went on to become a global best seller and is now a film. The story is a first person narrative told from three different women who have intersecting lives. It’s all a bit messy and contrived in parts but here’s the gist.
Rachel is really the main protagonist. About 80% of the book is from her perspective. It’s hard not to be frustrated with Rachel, but, at the same time, completely relate to her. Her husband has left her for a younger woman (and they’re now married with a child) and, since the divorce, her life has been on a progressive downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. She has had a lot of trouble letting go of her ex-husband (Tom) which infuriates his new wife (Anna – the second narrator and least likable of the three).
Rachel has been fired from her job and has, for months, been pretending to go to work so that her flatmate doesn’t know she is unemployed. Each day she catches the same train to and from London and, from that train, she can see the house she used to share with Tom (the house abutting the railway tracks). A couple of houses down, she starts watching another couple (whom she names Jess and Jason) and she imagines their perfect lives together. One day from the train, she sees Jess kissing another man (not Jason, her husband) and she is furious for this ruining her image of their perfect lives.
A few days later, she sees Jess on the news – she has gone missing. Jess is really Megan and Jason is really Scott. Megan is the third woman who tells a narrative in the book.
After she goes missing, Rachel (who admittedly is just seeking any drama and connection) decides to tell the police (and the husband) about what she saw in the backyard that day. She becomes increasingly tangled in this investigation and ultimately discovers some truths about her own past that have been plaguing her.
This is an addictive and easy read (albeit with a disappointing conclusion). What makes it easy is the style in which it is written – the first person narrative – active voice at all times, suppositions about what others think and feel, and, basically, staccato sentences, emotive/self-effacing language, an unfiltered stream of consciousness. Here’s where my test comes in – I am going to write a few paragraphs below of my morning in this style. Just whatever happened and came to my head. Nothing interesting happened this morning and nothing will happen in these paragraphs, but you’ll see how easy it is to draw someone in with this style even if you are writing nonsense.
I wake up. My mouth is dry. Immediately I regret not having drunk more water the night before. I roll over and fumble for my phone. I wonder what time it is. It has to be early as it’s still dark outside but I can see faint hints of light. 5:45am. Joy. I figure I should get up and feed my cat who has been pacing around and leaving pieces of foil and pipe cleaner on my bed.
I find my glasses and glance at myself in the mirror. My hair is a mess. My eyes hollow and tired. I stretch and head to the kitchen, carefully stepping over things that have been knocked over on the floor by my cat.
My head is swimming. I feel pain trickling down my forehead like ice cream on the side of a cone. I probably should go outside and do something active, but I am in too much of a heady daze to contemplate doing anything. My cat looks at me with disdain – back in bed again – even he thinks I am lazy and boring.
I prop myself up in bed and start to scroll through my phone. Yep, nothing much new since I last checked at 1am. A couple of likes on Insta, a few new stories on Facebook, an email from the post office seeking customer feedback. I decide to read instead. I light the candle next to my bed (one of the signals of single-person indulgence around my apartment) and it fills the room with faint vanillary notes.
I try to breathe deeply and calm down. But I know that sleep will not return easily.
There you go. That took 2 minutes to write and is absolute rubbish. But did you read it? Did it draw you in? First person narratives have become so popular for that reason – it’s so easy to write in this style and it brings out the voyeuristic side we all have. I could’ve written anything and made it seem real to you. Like you’re getting insight into someone else’s world. I could just as easily have written about waking up in a beachside mansion next to a handsome man…or lying awake in a flea-infested motel room wondering what all the scratching noises are. You’d find it just as believable because these types of narratives are like being able to write a thesis without any citations – it’s essentially unverifiable. We have no choice but to go along with what’s being offered to us as we can’t very well argue with someone else’s thoughts and perceptions.
Anywho, thank you for indulging me.
This is a solid book and a good holiday read. There are a few elements that I find disturbing; aside from the obvious prevalence of casual domestic violence and emotional abuse, the cavalier way that women are pitted against each other is affronting. For example, Anna and Tom repeatedly make light of Rachel’s struggles and can’t refer to her without calling her “fat” or “pathetic”. Rachel is made to seem like an unworthy person (in large part, as she’s less attractive than the other two women). In one scene, the police ask Scott if he is having a relationship with Rachel “A relationship?” he scoffs “have you seen my wife? Standards haven’t fallen that fast”. Wow. That’s just cruel and unnecessary in my view. The men in this novel are brutes and the women acquiesce to their whims. Makes me remember why relationships are so trying.
If you’re looking for a cheeky, easy read, give it a go.
7 first person narratives out of 10.