Archive | February, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

27 Feb

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Riverhead Books, January 2015

  • ISBN-10: 1594633665
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594633669
  • Thriller, psychological thriller, mystery, suspense

The plot

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Rachel takes the same train each day on her commute to and from London.  Each day she looks out at the houses that parallel the train tracks.  She begins to actively observe the lives of a seemingly perfect couple who she sees as her daily train moves past their house.  One day while reading the newspaper, she discovers the woman she has been watching each day is missing.  Feeling as though she has a connection with the couple, Rachel decides to investigate the woman’s disappearance. She is quickly drawn into a complex web of conflict and deceit that she could not have imagined in her daily observations of the perfect couple whose life she watched as her daily trains trundled past their house.

Book Snitch’s thoughts

I honestly could not put this book down once I had read the opening chapter.  Whenever I take a train, I enjoyed spending time looking out of train windows and imagining the lives of the people whose houses I can see from the tracks.  Humans tend to be voyeuristic, and I have found we often tend to see the ‘flawless’ versions of people’s lives and we wonder what it would be like to live like someone else.  I think that Hawkins cleverly played on the idea that we like to observe others, so I enjoyed the premise of the flawed perception that Rachel has of the couple she watches.  Hawkins has alternating first person narratives, including the voice of the woman who goes missing, which has a similar feel to the style Gillian Flynn uses in Gone Girl.  She cleverly plants a lot of cryptic clues and a couple of false leads which kept me guessing throughout the novel until the finale.  Hawkins definitely manages to maintain suspense and a punchy pace throughout the narrative.  Rachel, the primary protagonist, is a flawed narrator with a drinking problem that results in only fragmented perceptions of events.  This was a clever gimmick which made the novel an nail-biting read.

 Who should read this?

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a page-turner, and more specifically fans of mystery or thrillers.  If you enjoyed the likes of Gillian Flynn’s contemporary psychological mysteries Gone Girl or Sharp Objects, this would also be a great choice.  My older students might enjoy this as a holiday read, and I will be recommending it to them for their Spring Break book list.

Book Snitch rating:  5/5 stars

Book review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

8 Feb

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  St. Martin’s Press (Kindle edition sold by MacMillan CA) April 2010

Image courtesy of Goodreads

  • ISBN: 0312169787
  • Historical fiction

The plot

Diamant re imagines the story of Dinah, a character who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as having a tragic fate in the book of Genesis.  Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, whose story will probably be more familiar to readers of Genesis.  Dinah greets the reader as an old friend and shares the story of her life, starting before her birth with the arrival of the taciturn but strong Jacob in the land of the Canaanites.  Dinah reveals the complex dynamics of her large family, with the recurrent motif of the women’s respite in the novel’s namesake, the red tent.  Here, in a tent that is characterized by the colour of life, women gather to rest during their monthly cycles or give birth.  Dinah reveals the spiritual practices and physical rituals of the Canaanite women,and they endure joy, grief, jealousy, life and death.  Then Dinah comes of age, and their world is changed forever…

Book Snitch’s thoughts

I was initially curious about this novel, as I have taught The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I recognized a link between Diamant’s story and one of the biblical allusions Atwood uses.  Atwood references the story of Rachel, Bilah and Jacob in her novel, specifically because one of the Genesis stories relates Rachel asking her husband, Jacob, to have children with her handmaiden Bilah as she is unable to conceive. In The Red Tent, Jacob is Dinah’s father and her mother, Leah, is sister to both Rachel and Bilah.  I wanted to see how this strange story of surrogacy and the brief but tragic mention of Dinah in the Bible played out in a novel, as I have found the brief references to tragic stories in the Bible a little unsatisfying as narratives.

I was quickly drawn into the complex dynamics of this family, particularly the primal desire of all of the sisters to have children.  The descriptions of childbirth in this biblical era were pretty captivating.  The narrative style, with Dinah as the narrator, was fine though predictable.  The plot itself in the first two thirds of the novel had a lot of momentum, but I felt like this waned in the close of the novel, and the resolution was anti-climatic.  This said, Diamant succeeded in creating a more tangible glimpse into the ancient past, and the alien customs of the Canaanites and Egyptians.

Who should read this?

I would recommend this to my female friends as a pretty interesting lens into the life of women in the biblical era.  Those who have an interest in historical fiction, or would like to further imagine the lives those depicted in Genesis might also enjoy The Red Tent.

Book Snitch Rating:  3/5 stars