When I picked up The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins at the library shortly after its publication in 2015, it was then neither a number one bestseller nor a major motion picture. It was just another novel. I rather liked the blurry cover, I felt a bit blurry myself, so I checked it out.
As a rule, I don’t read the blurbs on the back of a book before I choose it, and I almost never read lit crit of a book before I read it, unless I just happen upon the book review first. Instead I go a lot by book covers [N.B. Authors: make sure you get cover art approval!], or by the names of authors I’ve enjoyed before, or by my local librarians’ recommendations. I also reserve many books on topics I’m interested in, for example women in the Viking Age.
I’m much the same way about movies. I don’t look at the critics’ estimation of a movie or its Rotten Tomato score to determine whether or not I will go see it. I am a fan of watching movies in the theater, though, and so I see a lot of trailers there, which definitely influence what other movies I will turn up to see.
I went to see the movie of The Girl On the Train because of the trailer in the theater that featured Emily Blunt as the main protagonist (although Haley Bennett plays a major role, too, especially in the movie). You can find that trailer on YouTube.
The first thing that disappointed me was the film’s setting in Westchester County, New York, rather than the book’s setting in the suburbs of London. In spite of this change of locale, however, Rachel Watson, Emily Blunt’s character, inexplicably has a British accent, although everyone else has American accents. This is never explained.
There are a number of inexplicable things in the movie, as opposed to the novel. One thing is the flattening of the three-dimensional aspects of the novel’s main female characters.
Sophie Gilbert has this to say about that issue in the movie, in The Atlantic:
That a book with relatively complex portrayals of women became a movie with such stock characters is disappointing, if not wholly unpredictable. Hollywood might be increasingly cribbing its ideas from books; what The Girl on the Train proves is that translating what makes those books work isn’t as easy as it might seem.
The film version of The Girl On the Train received a Rotten Tomatoes score of 44, by the way. While I wouldn’t rate it that low, it was definitely not as good as the book. It omitted important plot points, e.g. about the Friday night during which Haley Bennett’s character disappears, and its flashback features didn’t work well. The novel jumps back and forth as well, but much more adroitly than does the film.
The movie also lacks much of the suspense that the novel creates. And the book is much darker in tone than the movie, which I think is more appropriate to the story line. The book achieves thriller status, but I’m not sure the movie does. Perhaps I was biased by having read the book first. I almost always prefer the books to the movies made from them.
A jarring casting decision in the movie, for me at least, was to cast as Cathy, Rachel Watson’s roommate, the same young woman (Laura Prepon) who plays Piper’s love interest in Orange Is the New Black, a popular series on Netflix, whose first season I devoured. I never quite got over the reference to the Netflix series as I watched the movie.
In sum, I heartily recommend the novel. It deserves its bestseller status. And I also think going to the movie version is not a waste of money, especially if you attend a bargain matinee!