Friday, July 12, 2013. Rachel, hungover and exhausted, rides the train to London. As the train stops at the signal, Rachel looks out the window for Jess and Jason. She is shocked when she sees Jess in the yard kissing another man. Rachel feels pained and disappointed, as if she’s the one who’s been cheated on—again. She remembers finding an illicit email on Tom’s computer from a woman named Anna, and discovering a cache of steamy love letters they’d been sending back and forth for months. Rachel wishes she could scratch Jess’s eyes out.
Witnessing one half of the “golden” couple betray the other inspires a deep, primal anger within Rachel. Rachel’s own marriage didn’t work out due to infidelity—and now the marriage she idealized from afar is being impacted by the very same problem. This leaves Rachel feeling betrayed, abandoned, and even violent. Rachel perceives Jess’s failure to meet societal expectations for married women as a reminder of the ways in which Rachel herself doesn’t measure up to these expectations.
That evening, the 5:56 train is twice as full as it usually is. Rachel feels hot and sick. She reflects on her miserable day: after running into some of her old coworkers at a coffee shop and enduring their pitying looks, Rachel received an unexpected voicemail from Anna, begging her to stop calling the house at night. To cope with the shock, Rachel drank four gin and tonics in a row. She begins thinking terrible thoughts about Anna and Tom, who still live in the house that Tom and Rachel bought as newlyweds years ago. Rachel falls asleep—when she wakes up at the signal, she looks out the window for Jess and Jason but cannot see either of them.
Rachel’s day has gone from bad to worse, partly due to circumstances and coincidences beyond her control. This passage shows, however, that whenever Rachel feels pain, sadness, or discomfort, she tuns to alcohol—a false crutch which only exacerbates her fragile emotional state and makes her problems worse.
Saturday, July 13, 2013. Rachel wakes to the sounds of Cathy cleaning the apartment, as she does each Saturday morning. Rachel dreads the day stretching ahead of her. She recalls how she used to spend Saturdays with Tom having lazy morning sex and making breakfast, and she feels pained. After wasting the day away in her bedroom, Rachel gets slightly buzzed in the evening and goes out to take the train to London and back just so she can try to spot Jason. As she passes number 15, she spies two figures on the porch but cannot make them out. She drunkenly decides to get off at the Witney stop. As she does, she notices a redheaded man smiling—or sneering—from the opposite end of the carriage.
This passage characterizes Cathy as productive, cheerful, and devoted to traditionally female pursuits like housework. Rachel, on the other hand, is slovenly and depressed, obsessed with the past, and barely able to get out of bed. Rachel’s poor decision-making easily spirals out of control. The morning after Rachel disembarks from the train in Witney, she wakes up with no idea of what occurred. In this way, her alcohol dependency clearly impairs her judgment and memory.
Sunday, July 14, 2013. Rachel wakes up hungover and in pain. Her fingernails are dirty, and her mouth tastes like blood. She remembers that something bad happened at Blenheim Road but can’t recall any specifics. When she gets out of bed and examines herself in the mirror, she finds that she is naked and covered in bruises and cuts. When she exits her bedroom, she finds that her jeans and underwear are on the floor; they smell of urine. Rachel becomes nauseated and vomits on the stairs.
This passage demonstrates how Rachel’s alcoholism often functions as a gaslighting mechanism, divorcing Rachel from her memories and thus her core sense of self and leaving her completely unmoored. Her disoriented, injured state implies that she got into some kind of physical confrontation after getting off the train in Witney; whom she met or what she did remains to be seen.
Rachel retrieves her phone from her pocket, takes it up to her bedroom, and plugs it in. She has two voicemails: one from Cathy asking where she is, and another from Tom scolding her for frightening Anna and hanging around their home. Rachel has no idea what she did last night. As she gets back into bed and pulls the covers over her head, she has a mental image of jerking Anna to the floor by her long blond hair.
Rachel must begin piecing together the puzzle of the previous night—and yet all she has to go on are strange, fragmented images and bits and pieces of a technological trail. Defeated, overwhelmed, and feeling like she has once again failed to live up to society’s expectations of how women should behave, Rachel retreats from the world.
Rachel wakes to the sound of Cathy screaming at her for vomiting on the stairs. Rachel pulls on some clothes and goes downstairs to apologize, and Cathy is alarmed by Rachel’s appearance. Rachel insists that she’s been sick, but Cathy calls Rachel out for being drunk. Cathy tells Rachel that she has four weeks to find a new apartment, and then Cathy goes to her bedroom and slams the door. Rachel cleans up, goes back to her own room, and begins writing an email to Rachel’s mother to ask for some financial help. Rachel notices a new message on her phone from Tom and listens to it: he apologizes for yelling in his previous message as well as for the night before, when things got “heated.” Rachel, crying, crawls back into bed and goes to sleep once more.
Rachel’s drinking has pushed everyone away—and now, she may lose her one place of refuge. Rachel has no core sense of self, of home, or of community—and yet her drinking and desire to live in the past only further isolate her from everyone in her life. Rachel’s current mental state, which is fragmented, unreliable, and painful, mirrors the physical circumstances she is creating for herself through continued self-destructive behavior. The mystery deepens as Rachel loses touch with her own decision-making process, her memories, and her connection to anyone who might be able to help her reclaim those things.