SPOILERS!!LEAVE!!SPOILERS!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!SPOILERS!!SPOILERS!!LEAVE!!
I'd say this book is aimed at a female readership. The story interweaves the lives of 5 people; 2 couples and the single girl on the train. There's a male psychologist thrown into the mix, but he really doesn't count for much, since he's rational and sane, and gives off a good red herring smell.
So, three girls, two guys, but the women get special treatment because they trade off the first-person, point-of-view narratives, while the guys' feelings and motivations are submerged in their related dialogues and the glimpses given to us through the girls' perceptions. It is a murder mystery, so the hook is: Who killed Megan? The suspects are few but varied. Is it Scott, her husband and the police's choice? How 'bout neighbor Tom, the chump who's juggling his wife and ex-wife through a series of encounters that never quite gets resolved. Maybe even Tom's mate-poaching wife Anna, new with baby and being cheated on herself. Or—drum roll, please—the girl on the train, Rachel, a blackout drunk and sob sister of delusions and terribly-initiated plans of action that never turn out right?
While reading, the scenes buzz in your head like angry hornets, and the pages keep turning, unstoppable as a runaway swarm. Everything seems to pace through Rachel's hysteria. The women each have serious, if not hidden, debilitations. All three are out-and-out liars with questionable morals and me-me-me motivations, and, since all info sifts through them, there is no stable ground to be found anywhere. The guys weigh in more as victims than white knights seeking the grail of rationality. For awhile, anyway. The whole presentation is confusion and false notes, and, since there's not much action in the story, there's a tremendous amount of speculation, planning, and gossip covering what you really want to know about. It's the shucksters shell game, but who's hiding the pea?
The narrative structure is not as innovative as Gone Girl's elusiveness. Passing the voice around the question mark steams up from the pulp Noir days with such writers as Jim Thompson and Bill Ballinger(1). In The Girl On The Train, this technique rampages in heated accusations, self-pity & loathing, and endless emotional foamings as exciting as folding clothes. It feels drawn out, excessive, and at times, like filler overguarding the withholds. How many times do we need to go through Rachel's post-binge crying jags interspersed with, "I'm really, really sorry!" The alcoholism portrayed is held as real, but it makes boring prose.
When the caboose finally shows up, it seems like the three girls are really only one girl, just different facets dreaming shallow and living itchy, frustrated lives. So much noise, so many mouthed platitudes, so little effort in positive directions or even a smidgen of insight. Sitting alone, life is going by through a commuter train window. It's not my life, so why not imagine one that is?
1) For example, The Criminal (1953) & Portrait in Smoke (1950), respectively.