The Girl on the Train


Paula Hawkins

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The Girl on the Train Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Paula Hawkins

Born in Zimbabwe, where her father worked as a professor and financial journalist, Paula Hawkins moved to London, England at the age of 17. After obtaining a degree from the University of Oxford, Hawkins began working as a business reporter for The Times, later publishing a business advice book for women based on her background in politics, philosophy, and economics. After dabbling in freelance journalism and romance-novel-writing, Hawkins turned to crime fiction in the mid-2000s. Her novel The Girl on the Train was published in 2015 to widespread acclaim; it debuted in the number-one slot on The New York Times Best Seller list and remained there for 13 consecutive weeks. The Girl on the Train has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, has been translated into over 30 languages, and in 2016 was adapted into a major motion picture starring Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux. Hawkins’s second crime novel, Into the Water, was released in 2017 to mixed reviews. Hawkins lives and writes in South London.
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Historical Context of The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is set in contemporary London, and it features middle-class characters who are striving to realize outdated ideals of financial success, familial togetherness, and home ownership in the midst of a rapidly-changing social environment and global economy. Anna represents the ideal modern woman who “has it all”: a home, a family, and a husband who supports her. Rachel and Megan, however, represent existential challenges to Anna’s perfect embodiment of maternal instinct and femininity. Rachel, an alcoholic who has long struggled with infertility, represents the struggles of what happens when one tries yet fails to be a complete, perfect “modern woman.” Megan, a wild child who cannot—or will not—stay still and adapt to the pressures of domesticity, represents resistance to an unattainable paradigm of contemporary womanhood.

Other Books Related to The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is one of many contemporary mysteries narrated by several unreliable narrators. Collectively, the narrators’ purpose is to keep readers in suspense until a final, game-changing twist is revealed. Another novel in this vein is Gillian Flynn’s iconic 2012 novel Gone Girl, a crossover literary sensation which has been adapted into a major motion picture. Flynn’s 2006 debut novel, Sharp Objects, also featured an unreliable female narrator. Danya Kukafka’s 2017 debut, Girl in Snow, is yet another novel revolving around the murder of a young woman. Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Girl in Snow features an assortment of narrators struggling to solve a heinous crime, each of whom have their own personal investment—and potential connection—to the death of the titular girl. These “girl” thrillers have been widely recognized as a literary phenomenon that reckons with modern-day misogyny and violence against women.
Key Facts about The Girl on the Train
  • Full Title: The Girl on the Train
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Setting: London, England; the suburbs of Witney and Ashbury near Oxford, England
  • Climax: Rachel attacks her murderous ex-husband Tom in an act of self-defense. Tom’s new wife, Anna—equally hurt and disillusioned by his lies—aids Rachel in delivering the final blow.
  • Antagonist: Tom Watson
  • Point of View: First Person, rotating between the perspectives of Rachel, Megan, and Anna

Extra Credit for The Girl on the Train

Nom De Plume. Before breaking into the thriller genre, Paula Hawkins honed her novel-writing skills penning four romance novels under the name Amy Silver. In spite of the vast differences between the genres, “Amy’s” early romance titles explore many of the same themes as her contemporary mysteries. 

What’s In a Name? Rachel Watson, the primary protagonist and narrator of the novel, is somewhat of an amateur detective. Uncoincidentally, shares a surname with one of the most famous detectives in literature: Dr. John Watson, roommate and sidekick of Sherlock Holmes.