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Literature / The Girl on the Train

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"To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I'm doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists.

Just goes to show"
Rachel Watson

A 2015 thriller by British novelist Paula Hawkins, about a divorced, jobless alcoholic (Rachel) who everyday gets dressed and gets on the train to keep up the charade to her live-in-landlady, Cathy, that she still has a job. On the morning commute she spies out of the window on a seemingly perfect couple, Megan and Scott, and fantasises about their idyllic life. One day, Rachel sees in a newspaper that Megan has gone missing, and she takes it upon herself to discover what has happened to her. Over the course of her investigations, she discovers how her own personal life is linked to that of Megan's, and the danger that means for her...

The novel debuted at number one on the The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2015 list (the combined print and e-book list) dated February 1, 2015,and remained in the top position for 13 consecutive weeks as of the list dated April 26, 2015.


By early March 2015 the novel had sold over 1 million copies, and 1.5 million by April. It has spent 20 weeks at the top of the UK hardback book chart, the longest any book has ever held the top spot.

A feature film adaptation, starring Emily Blunt as Rachel, was produced at DreamWorks and released on October 7, 2016. It was the first film in DreamWorks' distribution agreement with Universal. A Bollywood film adaptation was later produced; it was released February 26, 2021 on Netflix.


The Tropes on The Train:

  • Adaptational Location Change: The novel is set in England, specifically the London suburbs. While Rachel is English, the movie is set in the suburbs of New York City.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Rachel is an overweight and plain girl in the book. In the movie Emily Blunt's version of her is slimmer and slightly more fashionable.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Scott is softened a little in the movie. When Megan confesses about her affair with Tom, Scott throws her against the wall and tries to choke her. When Rachel is found out about her lies, he locks her in a room. In the film, he only lunges at Megan but doesn't get her - and gets less violent on Rachel when he finds out.
  • Adaptational Nationality: The film changes the setting from London to New York, with the result that the cast becomes American. Rachel however remains English; this was done partly to emphasise her loneliness and isolation from the people around her.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Cathy in the book is a bit of a wet blanket and Extreme Doormat, who doesn't really mean it when she threatens to kick Rachel out. In the film she's far more assertive and together, acting as an Only Sane Man of sorts.
  • Affectionate Nickname: "Rach" was what Tom used to call Rachel. It becomes a lot less affectionate when he calls her that while trying to kill her.
  • The Alcoholic: Poor, poor Rachel.
  • Ambiguously Brown: When Rachel spots "B" from the train, she notices that he's too dark to be Megan's husband. When she goes to the police with her story, she asserts that "he could be Asian, maybe Indian." This is cause for laughter, which makes Rachel uncomfortable: "You could identify his ethnic group from the train?" He's actually a Bosniak.
  • Anachronic Order: The chapters are told from one of three character's points of view: Rachel, Anna and Megan. Whilst Rachel and Anna's stories are told in the present, Megan's chapters are in the past, and slowly reveal what happened to her.
  • Arc Words: "I'm not the girl I used to be" Rachel at the beginning of the movie, referring to how her miserable life compares to her previous happy one, and at the end, referring to her rebuilding her life as opposed to the pitiful existence she was living before.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Street numbers in the U.S. normally have odds all on one side and evens all on the opposite. So number 15 and number 13 would not be two doors down from each other, but next door to each other. Ignoring that, there's a glaring error later on when Rachel leaves Scott and Megan's house and the mailbox says it's number 18.
  • Ascended Extra: The book has Rachel remembering the wife of Tom's old boss, Clara and a memory of a conversation with her prompts her to realise that Tom's stories might have been wrong. In the film she physically appears twice on the train - now named Martha - and has a conversation with Rachel where she outright tells her that Tom's story was a lie.
  • Attempted Rape: Implied. At one point, after the confrontation with Tom, when Rachel was lying dazed in the middle of a street, two guys approached her with creepy smiles and one of them blew their cigarette smoke in her face. The red-haired man scared the two away, just in time.
  • Baby Be Mine: Rachel "kidnaps" Tom and Anna's baby (by carrying it outside and refusing to give her back). However, Rachel never intended to hurt the baby, though she did behave creepily about it. She actually ends up helping to save Anna and the baby from the murderous Tom at the end.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Rachel realizes that this is how Tom justifies his actions, and that's when she decides there is no way to reason with him.
  • Beneath Suspicion: Who would have guessed that Rachel's distraught ex-husband Tom had actually been having an affair with Megan and was her murderer?
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Tom, who appears as a reasonable man warding off a crazy ex-wife but is actually revealed to be a cold and cruel domestic abuser who put Rachel through serious instances of gaslighting and murdered Megan, who he was having an affair with.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Rachel's life in the aftermath of everything is still in shambles and she faces an uncertain future, but it's revealed that not only is Tom the one who murdered Megan, but he also took advantage of Rachel's alcoholism to mess with her head and perspective. She ends up killing him in self-defense and when questioned by the police, Anna backs her up. Scott has most likely been broken by the media hounding him and Rachel lying to him, but has moved away. Rachel is still unemployed, but she has stayed on the wagon for several weeks after the climax and is able to leave her old life behind.
  • Bookends: The novel begins and ends with Rachel catching a train. At the end, she is pointedly on the other side of the train, no longer obsessing over either house.
  • Broken Bird: Rachel, whose inability to have children led to her divorce from Tom and her descent into jobless alcoholism.
  • Central Theme: You do not know someone as well as you think you know them. Not that stranger you see everyday from the train, not your ex-husband's wife, not even always your own memories. Heck, even the reader is encouraged to think certain ways about the three POV characters, only for each to reveal a new side that reframes their previous actions, thoughts and memories. No, not even you can trust your judgments of these people.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The red-haired man Rachel remembers on that night Megan vanished.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Rachel is dressed in dark colors throughout the movie, symbolizing her misery, but in a light colored coat at the end, showing that she's much happier and beginning to rebuild her life.
  • Consummate Liar: Tom repeatedly convinces Anna that he's warned Rachel off hanging around them for good. This is given a much darker twist when Rachel points out all the inconsistencies in Tom's stories to Anna and Rachel, how they've never met his friends or family and how he easily dismisses their concerns as paranoia.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Rachel and Megan, to some extent. Not long into her marriage to Tom, Rachel discovered that she was infertile, which led to her spiraling into depression and alcoholism. This in turn cost her her friends, health and job. Then she found out that her husband was having an affair with another woman, leading to a messy divorce and her being made to move out of her beloved railway side home into a tiny flat she hates. Megan, on the other hand, lost her brother to a road accident when she was fifteen and he nineteen. She was then impregnated by her first boyfriend at a young age, and when the baby was born, accidentally killed her by falling asleep in the bath with the baby in her arms.
  • Death of a Child: Megan's baby daughter drowned when Megan fell asleep in the bath holding her.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • As a jealous man with a temper, this is everyone's assumption about Scott when Megan goes missing. He did physically assault her after finding out about her infidelity, but did not kill her.
    • Tom dished out some pretty horrific emotional abuse to Rachel, and he also physically abuses her multiple times during the novel's climax. To say nothing of him cheating on both Rachel and Anna, and the fact he murdered Megan in cold blood.
  • Easy Amnesia: Rachel's alcoholism conveniently provides memory loss at appropriate points to stop the mystery being solved a lot sooner. This is somewhat justified, as alcoholics often do have blackout periods where they literally can't remember anything, but falls back under this - as Rachel's alcoholic blackouts meant she never formed those memories, she shouldn't be able to recover them, especially not as relatively easy as she does.
  • Extreme Libido: What truly qualifies Tom, more than Really Gets Around or I'm a Man; I Can't Help It. His desire for sex is bad to the point that he chronically cheats on whoever he's with, and make any excuse to justify it. At some point the guy should just stop trying to be monogamous.
  • Fake Memories: Because Rachel was blackout drunk, Tom is able to convince her that she did things that never happened, such as making a scene at a party at his former employer's house that gets him fired and smashing a mirror at home, whereas what really happened was that Rachel just went to lie down, Tom was fired for having sex with everyone in the office and it was Tom who smashed the mirror.
  • Foreshadowing: Rachel wipes an "X" in the fogged window in the beginning of the film adaptation, indicating that her ex will play a part in the story.
  • Gaslighting: Tom is an absolute master. He takes advantage of Rachel's blackouts to the extreme, and convinces her that every bad thing that happens to her is her own fault, including his cheating on her. And two years later, she still believes it. It isn't until she gets help from Abdic that she starts pulling back the curtain. He tries it one last time when Rachel confronts him about Megan, saying that if it weren't for her drunken wandering having scared Anna back to the house, he would have been able to handle Megan more calmly, and she might still be alive. She doesn't buy it.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Megan's adamant that she won't have one even if the baby is Tom's instead of her husband's.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: All the protagonists are flawed and dysfunctional in some way; Rachel stalks and harasses her ex-husband, Anna is paranoid about Rachel and treats her like she's crazy, Megan tries to cheat on Scott with her therapist, Scott himself is emotionally abusive. With the revelation that Tom was abusive to Rachel, she becomes more clearly sympathetic.
  • Good Parents: Rachel's mom qualifies. While her presence is not crucial to the story, the only times she has been mentioned, it has been to help her daughter out without judgement. She first lends Rachel some money when Rachel is broke in the second half of the book and provides her with funds in the end after Tom is killed, out of compassion for what she went through, which allows Rachel to move out of her small apartment.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Just when Megan resolves to be a better person and to raise her unborn daughter right, she's cruelly and violently killed by Tom.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Tom's excuse for cheating with Megan — Anna was sexually unavailable after giving birth to his daughter.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Megan telling Tom that she's pregnant and refusing to have an abortion whether it's his baby or not signs her death warrant.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: How Rachel kills Tom. Done with a corkscrew, no less.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Rachel justifies some of her setbacks by noting that she wouldn't have needed to drink if it weren't for the extraordinary stressors she's had to deal with. After Tom is dealt with, even Cathy pours her a glass of Jack.
  • It's All About Me: Anna, in spades. A lot of her chapters are obsessing about Rachel's stalker tendencies. Even when she sees Rachel doing other things, she assumed everything Rachel does is to upset her.
  • It's All My Fault: Scott blames himself for Megan's disappearance, namely the huge row they had the night she vanished. This is only partly true; it didn't help that the next person she saw was Tom.
  • Jerkass:
    • Tom is a pretty textbook example. He's a domestic abuser, gaslighter, compulsive liar and cheat who clearly delights in the suffering he causes.
    • Anna definitely counts. She openly admits to having no remorse for the affair which destroyed Rachel's marriage, and at one point rather cruelly states that she loved every second of going behind Rachel's back. She later shows a complete Lack of Empathy for Rachel's plight (though Rachel's behaviour doesn't do her any favours), conveniently ignoring the fact that it was her and Tom's affair which sparked Rachel's downward spiral. Lampshaded when Rachel points out that she's less angry about her husband being a *murderer* than she is about the fact that he just compared her to Rachel, showing how petty and unpleasant she is. Her love for her daughter is her only redeeming feature.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Scott is possessive and snoops on Megan's devices to see if she's cheating on him, but he's right. She is cheating on him, and she doesn't even muster the energy to feel bad about it.
  • Just Train Wrong: At the end of the movie, we see Rachel from the outside of the train, talking in voiceover about how her life is different now, just as she does at the end of the book. An aerial shot of the train shows it is headed towards Bear Mountain and the Hudson Highlands. But ... the train car she's sitting in is an M7 electric multiple-unit passenger car, while the train shown going north is headed by a dual-mode GE Genesis locomotive, which Metro-North operates purely under diesel power outside of the Park Avenue Tunnel north of Grand Central Stationnote . In fact, the tracks at that point have no third rail, so she wouldn't have been sitting in a Comet coach, as used on Metro-North's diesel trains, and which look completely different on the interior.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Rachel is forced to kill Tom when he tries to murder her.
  • The Kindnapper: Rachel, who Anna hates, enters her house and snatches her baby daughter away from her while she was sleeping. Rachel did Evie no harm, but she creepily stood still outside the house doing so.
  • Lady Drunk: Rachel, even if she's a little younger than the women who usually fit this trope.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: In the film, Rachel is the dark feminine - brown hair, dark clothes. Megan is the light feminine - blonde hair and frequently dressed in white. Anna is somewhere in the middle.
  • Living Prop: Evie, Anna and Tom's daughter.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: The disappearance of Megan Hipwell that fuels the plot.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Megan in the movie. She is introduced while working out at the gym and has quite a number of nude scenes.
  • Murder Mystery: The plot becomes this when Megan is revealed as being dead, with suspicions raised on Rachel, Scott and even Anna. Turns out it was Tom.
  • Never My Fault: Tom twists everything around so he can blame it on Rachel. He also claims it's Megan's fault he killed her because she had the audacity to demand he take responsibility for his baby.
  • Nice Girl: Cathy tries her best to be a good friend to Rachel, even with the latter's alcoholism spiraling out of control throughout the book.
  • Nice Guy: Dr. Abdic gently refuses Megan's attempts to come onto him, listens to her open up about her past, and gives her good advice after she becomes pregnant.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Rachel seeing Megan apparently kissing someone on her porch. It's actually her therapist congratulating her on her pregnancy.
Rachel: I like trains, and what's wrong with that? Trains are wonderful.
  • Really Gets Around:
    • Megan, but played for tragedy more than for drama. From a young age, she used sex to avoid thinking about sad things in her life. She's had a trauma so bad as an adult that she uses sex as a coping mechanism.
    • Revealed to be the case with Tom. He cheated on Rachel with Anna, cheated on Anna with Megan and was fired from his old job for apparently screwing many of his co-workers.
  • Red Herring: Rachel mentions more than once that she's considering hypnotherapy as a means of retrieving memories from when she blacked out the night Megan disappeared. She never follows through with this, partly because of Dr. Abdic's opinion that it might do more harm than good. She follows his advice about gathering sensory clues to trigger the memories, which does the trick.
  • The Reveal: Megan was having an affair with Rachel's ex and Anna's current husband Tom. He killed her after she became pregnant and threatened to tell Anna about their affair.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • Bordering on Leeroy Jenkins with Rachel. The number of dangerous situations (all things considered) that she puts herself into with the intent of finding out what happened to Megan is nigh absurd. She justifies this by saying that having a purpose keeps her from drinking. And, true enough, it does. Mostly.
    • Scott lambastes Rachel for this. The night he finds out from the police that Rachel never actually knew Megan, and that she lied about knowing her to gain his confidence, he gets drunk and tells her to come over. He goes off on her when she uses the phrase "I needed", pointing out that if it weren't for Rachel's belief that she had to be involved, he might not be the primary suspect.
  • The Sociopath: Tom is a classic example, what with his complete lack of remorse for any of his despicable behavior and worse yet, blaming everyone else for it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: During a fight with Tom over her baby's paternity, Megan calls out Tom using a great example of this:
    Megan: You fucked Anna 'cause you couldn't fuck Rachel anymore, and you fucked me 'cause you couldn't fuck Anna. Take us all away and you're just a pathetic, impotent man!
  • Sex for Solace: It's clear that being attractive has made Megan use sex for a lot of things, but most often trying to stave off the sadness of the death of her child.
    • Made explicit in a scene with Abdic. When he asks a question that gets close to confronting her trauma, she tries to seduce him to avoid talking about it.
  • Spiritual Successor: The plot plays out pretty much like a modern update of Gaslight.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Rachel frequently turned up outside Tom and Anna's house, fueling the latter's animosity towards her. Of course, Anna preferred to ignore the fact she seduced Tom while Rachel was still married to him.
    • Megan's attitude towards Dr. Kamal Abdic, insisting on trying to pursue a relationship with him despite him trying to maintain a professional distance.
  • Stepford Suburbia: More like Stepford Street. Beckett Street looks like an idyllic, peaceful suburb, but its known residents live very dysfunctional lives, with dramas of infidelity and domestic abuse.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Anna at the end; even when Tom is revealed as a violent, cheating, misogynist murderer still sides with him over Rachel - or she pretends to, then slips away to call the police and an ambulance, before finishing Tom off with a corkscrew Rachel hit him with earlier.
  • Straw Misogynist: Scott has his moments. As does Tom
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The three female leads are slightly darker and bleaker versions of the typical roles. Rachel is the child - especially with her naivete and drunken behaviour and the revelation that she's been manipulated by Tom. Anna is the wife - currently married to Tom and mother of Evie, but resents her passive role as such. Megan is the seductress - she's had numerous lovers and affairs and struggles with the idea of becoming a mother.
  • Wall Bang Her: Tom with Megan, against a tree, first in the beginning through a flashback and again shortly before the fight that leads to her death, in the movie.

Alternative Title(s): The Girl On The Train