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Course Hero. "The Girl on the Train Study Guide." August 3, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2018.


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The Girl on the Train | Context


London and England in 2013

Paula Hawkins's novel The Girl on the Train is set in England in 2012 and 2013. The title refers to the commuter train that runs between London and Ashbury, a fictional suburb of the nation's capital. The commuter train, crowded with tired and worn-down passengers, illustrates a city and a country in disrepair. The train lumbers along on ancient rails in need of work, and it is always late because of unnecessary stops caused by broken signals. It passes a suburban community whose Victorian-style houses have seen better days. Under David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016, the country suffered under austerity measures and cutbacks in government spending in the areas of social benefits and public jobs. Departments aimed to reduce the large budget deficit amassed during the economic crisis after the 2008–09 crash of the stock market and the collapse of many trusted financial institutions. An unemployment rate over 7 percent and the steadily growing foreign-born population created a sense of economic and cultural insecurity that turned citizens against immigrants and asylum seekers. Set in the midst of the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the novel captures a sense of economic frustration and treading in place.

Domestic Noir Genre

Hawkins's novel The Girl on the Train has often been compared to Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel Gone Girl. Both novels are thrillers, exploring the romantic relationship between husband and wife as an explosive minefield of trust and betrayal. These page-turners in domestic noir, a subgenre of crime fiction, are propelled by the fear that those you trust the most betray you the most, turning the notion that the home and family are havens of safety on its head.

These novels are driven by complex female characters who defy the definition of victim or vixen otherwise typical in crime fiction. Rather than procedural plot points, the novels focus on the subtle yet far-reaching shifts in relationships with particularly high stakes. Lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children live lives so close that they create imminent emotional and physical dangers to each other, turning the supposedly nourishing domestic sphere into a mortal trap.

Following the tradition of novels such as Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) or Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), domestic noir, often also called suburban noir, explores what happens after the happy ending (typically marriage) in long-term relationships that are meant to be pillars of society.

The Unreliable Narrator

Wayne C. Booth coined the term unreliable narrator in his groundbreaking treatise The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961). For a variety of reasons, this kind of first-person narrator provides information that may or may not be truthful or factual. Because all narrated events are filtered through this compromised perspective, readers are left to decipher truth from fiction. A narrator's unreliability may be based on a number of factors; he or she may

  • vary in age and therefore understanding from other characters.
  • harbor social or racial prejudice.
  • lack intelligence or understanding of events.
  • suffer from a mental disorder or disease.
  • suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • possess a character flaw.
  • argue from a biased point of view.

An unreliable narrator is a favorite tool of writers of crime fiction, where a first-person narrator may withhold information or hide clues deep within the text to mislead the reader and create suspense. In The Girl on the Train readers are forced to rely on an unreliable witness to a crime. The events narrated by Rachel, the girl on the train, are affected by her deliberate lies, her alcoholism, and her blackouts and inability to remember events. Like the narrator of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (2012), the narrator of The Girl on the Train buries clues that build toward a surprise twist at the end.

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