Tuesday, July 16, 2013. Rachel is on the 8:04—but she is headed to Witney, not London. Megan has been missing since Saturday evening, and while Rachel doesn’t want to run into Tom or Anna, she feels compelled to go to Witney. She has been reading articles about Megan’s disappearance obsessively; she’s learned that Megan and her husband Scott argued Saturday night. Megan left the house, and Scott has told reporters that he believed she went to stay with a friend, Tara Epstein—but Megan never arrived at Tara’s house. Megan was last seen walking toward Witney station around 7:15. Rachel wonders if she is the only person in the world who knows that Megan was having an affair. Rachel’s head throbs as she wonders what could have happened to Megan; she feels both excited and afraid.
Rache, has felt lonely, adrift, and purposeless for a long time; she finally finds meaning in the search for Megan. She perhaps feels that if she can get the “golden” girl back, she’ll be able to move forward in her own life, recapturing the perfect standard of womanhood she has long admired from afar. Rachel looked to Megan as a faraway exemplar of femininity, and there is no doubt a part of her that’s determined to get Megan back as a role model.
Later that day, as Rachel settles into her train seat to head on to London from Witney, she realizes that she has a voicemail from Cathy. In the message, Cathy, who feels badly about Rachel’s taxi accident, tells Rachel that she can stay in the apartment for as long as she wants. Before hanging up, Cathy asks Rachel to come home tonight and skip the pub. As Rachel hangs up, she thinks about how she hasn’t had a single drink today—she wants a clear head for the first time in ages.
Rachel is finally able to free herself—if only for just the time being—from the haze of alcoholism in order to focus on the tasks ahead of her. She actively wants to be sober for the first time in a long time—and she wants to try to behave in a societally-acceptable way. There is something exciting before her rather than the same crushing despair and monotony of the past.
Rachel recalls walking around the familiar town of Witney that morning feeling like a trespasser. While walking through the underpass toward the train station at the end of her jaunt, Rachel experienced a flashback—she remembered being slumped against the wall, covered in blood. She realized that the memory must have come from Saturday night—the night of Megan’s disappearance and of her own blackout. Rachel hurried toward the platform, yet the flashback kept deepening, and she recalled being helped up by the strange redheaded man from the train.
As Rachel begins having flashbacks about the events of Saturday night, it becomes clear that something went terribly wrong. It can’t possibly be a coincidence that on the night of Megan’s disappearance, Rachel was in the area and in such distress. Rachel knows that if she wants to figure out what happened to Megan, she must first piece together what, exactly, happened to her.
Presently, in London, Rachel goes to a library and sits at a computer, obsessively reading stories about Megan’s disappearance. After several hours, she decides to return home. She is determined to call the local police and inform them about Megan’s affair. As the train pulls into the station at Ashbury, Rachel receives yet another phone call—it is Cathy. The police are at the house waiting to talk to Rachel.
As Rachel gets the news that the police are waiting to speak to her at home, it is clear that her hunch about having been present the night of Megan’s disappearance may be more than just a feeling. The extent to which Rachel’s drinking played a role in her actions that night—as well as her ability to remember or willingness to admit what happened—remain to be seen.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013. In the morning, Rachel recalls the night before, when she met with—and lied to—the police. She finds the idea that she could have had something to do with Megan’s death ridiculous. But Rachel also knows enough about blackouts to realize that because the brain stops making short-term memories in such a state, there is always the chance that one can harm themselves or others during that state of “deepest black.”
Rachel doesn’t want to believe that she could have had anything to do with Megan’s disappearance. Yet at the same time, she knows that her drinking makes her unreliable and unpredictable, as it plunges her into a mental state of “deepest black.” She’s unable to account for actions that she may or may not have taken while blacked out.
When Rachel got home, she encountered two police officers: a man in his forties, Detective Inspector Gaskill, and a younger man whose name Rachel, in a state of panic, has since forgotten. Gaskill questioned Rachel about her whereabouts on Saturday night. She admits that she went to Witney to see Tom—but she decided this was a bad idea and returned home. Gaskill told Rachel that she was seen acting strangely on Blenheim Road around the time that Megan left home—investigators learned this when speaking with Anna Watson. Rachel felt embarrassed and nervous, recalling the flashback of sitting in the underpass covered in blood.
As Gaskill interviews Rachel, she begins to see how the different parts of the night are connected: her impulse to go visit Tom placed her in Megan’s proximity. And because Rachel can’t account for what happened that night— she only vaguely remembers fear, violence, and isolation—it’s not impossible that something went terribly wrong on Blenheim Road. Her unsteady demeanor, and police reports from Tom and Anna, no doubt make the detectives suspicious of Rachel—they see her as a deviant in terms of how women in society are expected to act.
The detectives showed Rachel a picture of Megan and asked if she’d seen her. Rachel said that she hadn’t. Gaskill gave Rachel his card and urged her to call him with any further information. Before leaving, Gaskill asked where Rachel worked. Because Cathy was in the room, Rachel lied about still being employed by the public relations firm she was fired from months ago. Now, looking back on the interview—and fearing that her lies will catch up with her—Rachel decides to go to the police station, come clean, and inform Gaskill about Megan’s affair.
Rachel is on thin ice, as her entire narrative is built upon secrets and lies. This only more secrets, more lies, and more situations in which Rachel must confront her own unreliability. She knows that she must put a stop to this vicious cycle before it’s too late.
Hours later, in the evening, Rachel thinks about what happened when she’d visited the police station. After asking to speak to Gaskill, Rachel was taken to a room where she met with Gaskill and a female officer, Detective Sergeant Riley. Rachel described the redheaded man she saw at the train station and reported that he helped her up after she slipped on her way out of the station. She admitted to having been let go from her job. The detectives continued to press her about the events of Saturday night, but Rachel was evasive. The detectives told her that Anna informed them that Rachel once broke into the house and attempted to kidnap her baby, Evie. Rachel became upset and protested that no such thing is true. The detectives suggested that Rachel stretch her legs and get some food—then come back to finish her interview.
Rachel’s meeting with the detectives doesn’t go exactly as planned—it turns out that Anna and Tom have told them incriminating things about Rachel, things that the erratic, unreliable Rachel herself isn’t able to refute. Hawkins employs a unique way of dispersing information about Rachel, revealing some of her darkest secrets through other people’s accounts. This makes Rachel untrustworthy not just to the detectives in the story, but to readers.
Rachel had gotten a sandwich and sat in the park to eat it. There, she reflected on her struggles with fertility—even after a round of in vitro fertilization, she could not get pregnant. The pain broke her—and in turn, she broke her marriage. Though Tom didn’t need a child and insisted the two of them should focus on being happy, Rachel could not push away her feelings of shame, and loneliness as she watched friends and acquaintances rapidly start families of their own. As a result, she began drinking heavily.
As Rachel reflects upon her painful but futile attempts to have a child, it becomes clear that she feels a deficient as a woman because she’s unable to be a mother. She resents herself and those around her, and she’s turned to alcohol as a way to numb the pain, isolation, and worthlessness she feels.
Rachel had returned to the station and explained that she was drunk—and depressed by a Facebook post Tom made about the joys of new parenthood—when she went to his and Anna’s house and picked their baby up out of her bassinet. She meant to simply go talk to Tom, but when she entered the house using a spare key, she found Anna sleeping on the sofa and the baby, Evie, crying. As she was telling this story, Rachel realized that she should have changed some details to make it more believable—implying that it is a lie. Gaskill and Riley continued badgering Rachel about the story, insisting that she wanted to harm the child and that she had been pestering Anna and Tom relentlessly. The detectives pointed out that Rachel has not changed her last name after the divorce—and that she was wearing her wedding ring on a chain around her neck.
In this passage, as Rachel tells a story to the police, she privately thinks about the fact that she’s lying once again. This again exposes her desperation and untrustworthiness to the reader—she’s using secrets and lies to protect herself from others perceiving her failure to be a proper woman. It seems that this ever-growing web of secrets and lies will never come to an end until Rachel makes a conscious decision to stop the deception. Just as Rachel’s drinking problem perpetuates itself, so too do her lies.
Gaskill and Riley began to suggest that perhaps Rachel attacked Megan, believing that she was Anna—both women, they pointed out, are of similar build with blond hair. Rachel told the detectives that their idea was stupid. The detectives asked Rachel if she knew that Anna and Megan were acquainted—but the fact that Megan babysat for Anna came as a true shock to Rachel.
Rachel is beginning to learn more about the unpredictable ways in which all these disparate threads of her life are connected. As such, she’s becoming increasingly frightened that she did play a role in Megan’s disappearance.
As Gaskill and Riley continued to press Rachel about her physical injuries and the taxi accident in London, Rachel decided to play her trump card. She pushed her chair back and said she was leaving—and that she assumed the police would be following up with Megan’s lover. The detectives asked Rachel what she meant, and she told them about seeing Megan kissing someone else from the train. The detectives, intrigued, asked Rachel to describe the man further. After getting what they needed from Rachel, the detectives dismissed her—and warned her to stay away from Blenheim Road.
Rachel doesn’t want to be a suspect in this case—and she knows that she has the perfect way to draw focus away from herself. By revealing to the detectives that Megan was having an affair, Rachel pulls a risky move—yet she feels it’s worth revealing the extent of her investment in Megan’s life in order to redirect the detectives to someone who could be a real suspect.
Now, on the train home, Rachel feels excited. She has no desire to return home and pour herself a drink—she wants to stay on her toes. For the first time in a long time, Rachel says, she has a purpose—or at least a distraction.
Rachel feels that for the time being, she doesn’t need to numb her emotional pain with alcohol. Now, Rachel has Megan’s case to engage with—a mystery that invigorates her and makes her feel connected to rather than separate from the rest of the world.
Thursday, July 18, 2013. Rachel buys three newspapers for her morning train journey and reads the articles about Megan that they contain. Rachel learns from the articles several facts about Megan: she was born in 1983, her brother died when she was 15, and her parents are now dead as well. There are several quotes in the articles from friends and acquaintances of Megan’s, all of which describe her in lovingly. When it comes to facts about the investigation, though, the articles are sparse, and the quotes they feature from the detectives assigned to the case are vague. At the signal, Rachel notices two policemen in Scott’s garden. Rachel becomes determined to remember what happened on Saturday night—and to get in touch with Scott to tell him about Megan’s affair.
Rachel’s obsession with Megan’s disappearance is rooted in her desire to understand how she so completely misread Megan’s “golden” life. Rachel wants to unravel where Megan’s life went off the rails—just as she wishes she could pinpoint the exact moment at which she lost control of her own life. On some level Rachel seems to believe that if she can figure out Megan’s problems, she will be able to figure out her own.
That evening, Rachel is back on the train. She was caught in a rainstorm on the way to the station, and her clothes are drenched. Earlier today, she sent Scott an email after finding his address on the website for his IT business. In the message, she introduced herself as an acquaintance of Megan’s and stated that she had some information about Megan that might help him. Now, however, as Rachel reads a new article about how a man is being questioned in connection with Megan’s murder, she fears that Scott is a suspect—and that he’ll never see her message. Rachel begins craving a drink.
This passage shows how as Rachel spreads more lies, she becomes more anxious and unrooted from herself. This leads her craving alcohol as a means of numbing the feelings that she herself creates. From this, readers can see that Rachel is trapped in a terrible and self-destructive cycle. For Rachel, lies and secrets only beget more and more lies.
As the train lurches to a stop at the Witney signal, Rachel catches sight of the red-haired man again. He smiles at her. Rachel again remembers him helping her up on the stairs at the Witney station. As the man stands and disembarks the train, Rachel regrets not following him. She fears that without questioning him about Saturday night, she’ll never figure out what happened.
Rachel believes that the red-haired man may hold a clue as to what happened to her on the night of Megan’s disappearance. She wants to know what he knows—even as she fears finding out the truth and having to confront the role that she may or may not have played that night.