The Girl On The Train Summary

Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Girl On The Train Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins.

British author Paula Hawkins began her career as a journalist before turning to fiction. Under the name Amy Silver she published a number of light romantic novels, none of which gained much traction in the literary world. In 2015, writing under her own name and with decidedly darker subject matter, she produced her breakthrough novel The Girl on the Train, which achieved world-wide bestseller status and established her as a rising voice in the genre. The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller with themes including substance abuse and domestic violence.  The novel has a complexity that stems from its use of the first-person voices of Rachel, Anna, and Megan, which demonstrate the literary technique of the unreliable narrative voice.

Thirty-two-year-old Rachel Watson’s marriage to Tom has fallen apart and her alcoholism and its accompanying binge-induced blackouts have caused her to lose her job. When under the influence she frequently harasses her ex-husband in person and by phone, with little memory of what she has done later on. Tom, meanwhile, is married to Anna, with whom he has a daughter, Evie. This serves to further Rachel’s drinking, anger towards Tom, and lack of self-worth, as her abuse of alcohol largely began because she had been unable to get pregnant. Rachel hides the fact that she has lost her job from her roommate by continuing her daily routine as if nothing has changed. She boards the train to London each morning and rides past the house she once shared with Tom, who now lives there with Anna and Evie. A few houses away there is a house occupied by a couple she does not know. She imagines the couple living an idyllic life. As it turns out, that is not the case; the woman living there is Megan Hipwell, who helps take care of Evie.

To Rachel, Megan seems to be a happy and beautiful woman with a perfect husband. Megan has a secret past that nobody knows about and which leads to her suffering from insomnia. She is bored with her life and has had a series of lovers. She has undergone therapy with Dr. Kamal Abdic, with whom she has shared a secret from her past. Megan is also interested in seducing the doctor. Anna appears happy in her life with Tom. She stays home to tend to Evie. There was a time when she liked the idea of flaunting her life with Tom in front of Rachel, but as Rachel’s harassment increases she wants to contact the authorities and report her as a stalker. Anna feels threatened by Rachel, who at one time entered the Tom and Anna’s home, picked up Evie, and took her outside.

One day, as Rachel continues to observe Megan, she sees her kissing a man who is not her husband. That night Rachel has another drinking binge and wakes up the next morning injured and bleeding. She retains no memory of what transpired the previous night, but knows she must have done something regrettable. She later learns from a news report that Megan has gone missing. Learning from Anna that she saw Rachel in a drunken stupor in the area from which Megan disappeared, police interrogate Rachel. This piques Rachel’s interest in the missing persons case surrounding Megan. Rachel tells the police that she believes Megan was involved in an affair from having observed her from the train. Further, Rachel pretends to be a friend of Megan’s and gets in touch with Scott, Megan’s husband, to tell him her theory about Megan’s affair. She discovers that the man Megan was kissing on the day of her disappearance was Kamal, the therapist.

Next, Rachel makes an appointment with Kamal under the guise of seeking therapy to try to uncover her memories of the night Megan disappeared, but with the actual intent of learning more about him. In an ironic turn, Rachel begins to learn more about her own life because of the therapy she is doing with Kamal. The fact that she has made connections with Kamal and Scott, regardless of the unscrupulous motives behind them, has made her feel important. She goes for periods of time without drinking but they do not last, and her harassment of Tom and his family continues. When Megan’s dead body is found, it turns out that she was pregnant with a child that was neither Scott’s nor Kamal’s. As memories of the fateful night return to Rachel she recalls Megan getting into a car with Tom. Tom, it is revealed, was having an affair with Megan. As Rachel’s memories continue to become clear she realizes that some of the things Tom told her she had done during her drinking binges never really happened, and that he was trying to make her doubt her own sanity. Rachel warns Anna that Tom killed Megan. Tom confesses to Anna and tries to coerce Rachel into keeping quiet about it. The two women ultimately kill Tom in what they convince police was purely self-defense.

The New York Times Review of Books praised the structure of The Girl on the Train, making comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl due to the use of unreliable narration. The review goes on to say: “One sign of this book’s ingenuity is the way key details are effortlessly omitted. And you’re not apt to miss them until the denouement, when it is pointed out that certain characters never appeared and supposed facts were never explained. Another appealing thing about the book is that while Ms. Hawkins’s writing is more serviceable than stylish, she gives her thinly drawn women some brainpower. Rachel finds out about Tom’s affair with Anna via email, of course. Horrified as she is, she can’t help being amused that he has used the same line on Anna that he once used on her: ‘Don’t expect me to be sane, I can’t be, not with you.’ Or that he lifted it from Henry Miller.”