This book appeals to the many thousands of voyeurs who love to watch ordinary people go about their mundane business while secretly hoping something interesting happens.
The idea of witnessing something while passing by on a train is far from new and neither is a whodunit style of story, but this book is an international bestseller and was turned into an equally successful film of the same name. I couldn't not read it.
The unoriginal preamble centres around the observations of an alcoholic woman as she commutes into London every day. The lives she sees are rather dull so she fantasises about the relationships, gives the couples names, imagines them in conversation. She drinks a lot. Falls over, vomits. All rather tawdry.
The story is told in the first person by three unlikable women, each has her own issues and all three three are self-absorbed and bored. The three main male characters are no better, but at least they're handsome with great smiles.
The writing is easy to follow, a bit cliched and repetitive in places (all the narrators bite their lips hard, for example) and over-long. As each narrator's voice is similar, I found myself skipping back a couple of pages to remind myself of whose point of view I was reading at given points.
So what makes this novel so special?
When eventually one of the narrators goes missing, the story starts. Despite a lot of running around from one location to the next, the tension and pace of the story increases. There is a sense mystery brought about by both the missing woman and the unreliable witnesses so we are never sure whom to trust as we endeavour to work out what has happened. This is a wonderful strategy to heighten the confusion.
Although the characters are rather shallow, the psychology involved, particularly for the central women, is at times quite profound. The men are a little more stereotyped. But they're handsome, so that's okay. I would have like at least one of them to have likeable so I could root for them, but because I didn't favour anyone I didn't care who lived or died.
I did enjoy this book and there are sections that kept me gripped. Definitely dark fiction. The imagery for the train, the sound it makes for example, adds to the atmosphere and keeps the train a constant theme throughout. Really like that. The unreliable narrator is a sound technique; really like that too. Must bear that in mind.