A glimpse at the reviews for this book tells me that many people are 'tricked' into reading it due to it's similarity to The Girl on the Train. I realized my mistake about a quarter of the way through listening to this audiobook and decided that I liked it enough to continue.
The most clever thing about this book might be the decision to name it almost the same thing as a famous bestseller, but the plot is also quite intricate - to the point where it becomes implausible. I enjoyed the character development and style of writing that made this book play like a movie in my head. If I found the final reveal a bit much, it did take me by surprise. If you happen to accidentally pick it up, I recommend sticking with it. ;-)
Seems stupid to write a review of a book that everyone and their mother has read, but I'ma do it anyway.
This really could all be summed up with the note I wrote to myself privately on Goodreads:
DO NOT EVER BUY ANOTHER PRE-RELEASE UNTIL YOU HAVE READ THE AUTHOR'S WORK!
Let's do it anyway:
I bought this early on the strength of a review and a really good marketing plan, read half then apparently forgot to finish it. My local library's reading challenge for January includes reading a book made into a movie, and I was a bit shocked to see this one in my Kindle, so I started again from the beginning, having no clue what I'd read before, and I finished it in a couple days.
Turns out, The Girl on the Train wasn't half bad. It's not the best I've ever read, best I bought in 2015 or even the best I've read this month. Nonetheless, it's a decent mystery with a nice fake-out or two, and I love an unreliable narrator. I usually love a character that everyone in the book hates, unless she makes me indifferent to her, which sort of happened here. If I could've rooted more for Rachel, I might have been more invested. Oh well.
Now my two quibbles pet peeves: For all the women in it, it sure doesn't pass the Bechdel or any other feminist test I'm aware of. In fact, the women in this book are universally jealous, petty and horrid to each other -- even the so-called friends and especially where men are concerned. Hell, even the policewoman isn't very nice to other women. Grown women being so angry at each other for a man's infidelity or lack of trust, argh -- that time needs to pass from books right now. I'm tired of watching or reading about these women. I don't know women like this anymore, and I don't like them in books either. It's immature at best, pathetic and gross at most.
Quibble Pet Peeve number two is the word "literature" used to market this one. That word is supposed to mean something, and it's not about topping the best seller lists for a year. Popularity is great, but it's not the same as literary. Everyone expects a certain originality and quality to the writing that will make it stand the test of time when something is marketed as "literary fiction." (Though maybe more people will try the literary word if they think it's all like this?) Anyway, genre fiction can be literature. There are some wonderful works of literary fiction that are psychological thrillers or fantasy, mystery, western, horror, whatever. This isn't one of them. It's an indulgence, a treat, fun and relaxing read with real suspense at times. I'll make a bet The Girl on the Train will not end up part of any lasting literary canon.
Literature means "writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest" or "written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit." As it was explained to me when I kept saying "I like this kind of book" and didn't know how to find more, literature has a way of exploring how we relate to the world, rather than a story told about the world. I'm not sure this little treat fits there. No new or lasting views are found here beyond a good story, and that's fine. Again, I point out that I'd read half of this two years ago and remembered zilch about it. Not a lasting effect. If my Kindle hadn't had a bookmark and a "last place" marker, I would've sworn I didn't 1) own the book and 2) never opened it. Just don't sell me a book under false pretenses! I buy plenty of mystery books that are far from literary or even good, actually.
Despite these "quibbles," it was good entertainment. I'm not upset I took the time to read it.
Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the train tracks shortly before the train passes by, his only problem is that it was the wrong train. Fighting with the Polish resistance against Germany and Russia, their intent was to destroy a German troop transport, not destroy a train going to Auschwitz. On that train was six-year-old Gretl Schmidt. Although she is spared from the concentration camp, she is now an orphaned German Jew who finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. Jakób's guilt and compassion allow Gretl to stay with him for three years and the pair form a strong bond. But Jakób believes Gretl will have better opportunities in South Africa where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families - so long as her Jewish roots, Catholic education and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.
Poor Gretl. She had been through a lot but she was determined and headstrong and I couldn't help but root for her to have some happiness. As time went on I began to get bored. I felt like I was reading forever and getting nowhere. I was sick of reading about the minutiae of her everyday life - what colour ribbons she was wearing in her hair, what she was eating, what language she had to speak that day or what religious beliefs she had to believe in that day. We had to be told every. little. thing. I skipped the second half of the book and went straight to the epilogue, which held no surprises for me. A very tedious read.
Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson for a copy of this book.