This year I have signed up for the City 2 Surf for the first time. For non-Aussies, the City 2 Surf is an annual community run, 14.6km no less, that takes place every winter. As the name suggests the course commences in the Sydney CBD and finishes in iconic Bondi Beach. It is long, hilly and by all accounts, pretty gruelling. I hope to complete the race in 80 minutes. In my day job, I work with a seasoned City 2 Surfer who has raced it sub 50 mins. Several times. When I commented that he could finish the race and still have time to run back and collect me he remarked, “I’m a runner not a body lifter”. Ouch.
And so it is with some novels. As a reader you want to be carried, to be lifted across the line. That’s not to say that the stories have to be without complexity but there is something satisfying with letting a book support you tirelessly through the journey of its plot. I don’t want to be bored; quite the opposite. I always demand a tale pack a punch and entertain me in a satisfying and unconfused manner.
The Girl on the Train is one such novel. Comparable to Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl, it is deliciously gripping and incredibly suspenseful. Told from the perspective of three protagonists – all women and all inextricably linked under extraordinary circumstances – this multifaceted thriller is hauntingly overlayed with a film of melancholy. Rachel, the first narrator and the most prolific is utterly flawed but incredibly likable. She is self-destructive as she clobbers her way through her somewhat pathetic life entirely designed by her own tedious and repetitive mistakes. But Rachel is more than just her flaws. She is intelligent and curious and not at all cruel. She is, as it turns out, only unkind to herself. She is under the spell of her addiction but has not yet been completely swallowed by it. The road to redemption falls achingly close but is then snatched away time after time as Rachel’s injurious decisions guide her away from peace.
This novel also creates some fascinating insights about modern relationships, more specifically, modern marriages. I once recall Charlotte (you know, the Sex and the City Charlotte) openly question ‘how well do we really know the people we sleep with?’. In many ways the relationships in this novel are the manifestation of that enquiry. Secrets, lies, paranoia and narcissism shroud the couples as they descend from blissful newly-wed joy to the mundane reality of long-term love. It seems that the easy part of any relationship is telling someone you love them. It’s the stuff that comes later that makes the journey of matrimony demanding. Behind the banality of suburbia, the true nature of human interaction is revealed.
I read this novel on a rainy Sunday afternoon and the time could not have been better spent. The languid act of being carried has never been so rewarding.