Now, with discussion questions.
I was responsible for leading the Book Club discussion this month. We had chosen The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The marketing for this book was insane. There were posters all over the GO train, subways and buses. It must have worked well, because as of now, it’s still on the NYT Best Sellers List. We had to see what all the fuss was about.
Overall, I thought it was an entertaining book. I don’t love modern fiction, and I am not really into the Thriller/Mystery genre, but I really enjoyed this book. It is a great book club selection and an easy read and I would recommend it. I also heard that they’re going to make a movie based on the book starring Emily Blunt, so pick it up now before they re-print the cover with the movie poster.
I had to craft some discussion questions for the group. Please feel free to use these, or modify them to suit your own book club. Obviously, there are spoilers.
The Girl on the Train
Book Club Discussion Questions
1. At first, I didn’t realize that Rachel was an alcoholic. Commuter trains are very common in the UK and I was unsure of the rules. I assumed she was in the dining cart on a VIA Rail train. It took a few pages to realize that she was on the equivalent of a GO Train and constantly drinking – which was a huge red flag. My first impression was that she was a huge loser, and that she was the probably the bad guy, but as the novel went on, I realized that she maybe wasn’t the worst character, and that there were characters who were much worse than her. What was your initial impression of Rachel, and how did it change throughout the course of the novel?
2. One of my favourite novel elements is an unreliable narrator. A narrator who lies to the reader, or who doesn’t tell the whole truth, or whose bias is so strong that it alters how the story is presented. Rachel, as an alcoholic, is unreliable because she has blackout periods and her memories are cloudy. One element of a mystery or a thriller is that we as readers do not know the full story and the author will leave us clues along the way. In this instance, we are especially kept in the dark because what little we do know about the story based on Rachel’s memory is hazy. Rachel is as frustrated as we are because she can’t remember any details. Did you feel that this quality as a narrator increased the mystery/thriller element of the story? How would the story have been different if Rachel was 100 per cent coherent at all times?
3. The structure of the novel is interesting in that it has a morning and evening segment for each chapter. A lot is presented in both segments, but there is a lot of blank space in between the morning and evening to fill in. Why did the author structure the novel to mimic a commuter train, and how did it enhance the story?
4. Rachel thinks about Megan and Scott every day on the train. She is borderline obsessed and envious of their lives. The story takes a dangerous turn when she inserts herself into their story. Do you notice a difference between what Rachel does on the train – watching strangers and projecting thoughts and imagining about their lives – and what we do through social media (Facebook, Instagram, or watching celebrity reality TV)? Why do you think people are so interested in the lives of others, and when does watching go from harmless to dangerous?
5. One theme of the novel is addiction, Rachel is an alcoholic and Megan is also dealing with addictions of her own. What role does the addiction play on shaping their characters? How does it motivate them to act throughout the story?
6. Another huge theme in the novel is infidelity or vice. It seems like everyone is cheating on each other. It seems like everyone is doing something bad. Anna, Tom, and Megan are cheating. Megan enters into a relationship with her therapist, Kamal. Rachel is an alcoholic. They are all very flawed characters. Can you root for a character who does bad things? And, is anyone either good or bad or can you have both elements in the same person?
7. Another huge theme of the novel is about womanhood as projected through being a wife and mother. Rachel, Anna, and Megan have very different experiences being wives and mothers. At one point, Rachel states “I liked my job but I didn’t have a glittering career, and even if I had, let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things – their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.” This sentence particularly stood out for me. How does this sentence make you feel? Do you think it is accurate or truthful?
Our next book club selection is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and it comes highly recommended by some people whose opinions I value and trust. I am excited!!