The Girl on the Train | Study Guide

Paula Hawkins

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The Girl on the Train | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Watching the Neighborhood Go By

In July 2013 Rachel Watson takes the commuter train between London and Ashbury every morning and evening. She lives in the spare bedroom in her friend Cathy's duplex. Cathy took her in when she had nowhere to go after her divorce. Rachel is an alcoholic and has lost her job because of it. Still commuting every day to hide her unemployment from Cathy, she rides by her old neighborhood. She can't bear to see her old house, where her ex-husband Tom now lives with his new wife, Anna, and their baby. Instead, she focuses on another house just up the street. The occupants, strangers whom she has named Jess and Jason, remind her of her own happier past with Tom.


As she rides by one Friday, Rachel sees Jess kissing a man who does not look like her husband. Rachel is outraged because Jess's betrayal reminds her of her own husband's betrayal. On Saturday, after a couple of drinks, she decides to tell Jason what she saw. On Sunday she wakes up with bruises and a head wound, but she was so drunk that she suffered from a blackout and has trouble filling in the details. The following Monday she learns that a woman from that neighborhood, Megan Hipwell, went missing. The address tells her that Megan is Jess. She goes to the police and tells them that Megan had an affair, but they don't take her seriously because she is an alcoholic.

Megan's Story

In a plotline that begins a year earlier in May 2013, Megan Hipwell tries to find a purpose in her life after the art gallery she ran had to close. Restless in her marriage to Scott, an IT specialist, she watches the trains rumble by her house and imagines the exotic trips she and her brother wanted to take before he was killed in a motorcycle accident. For a little while she babysits for a neighboring couple, Anna and Tom, but quits the job because she does not like the baby. She suffers from insomnia and begins to see a therapist, Kamal Abdic. She is having an affair, and her therapist suggests that Scott's distrustful and jealous behavior might be emotionally abusive, but Megan dismisses his warnings. In therapy she explores her past: after her brother's death, she ran away from home to move in with an older man, Mac. Together they had a baby girl, who accidentally drowned when Megan took a bath with her and fell asleep. Shortly thereafter, Mac abandoned her.

The Suspects

Rachel contacts Scott, Megan's husband, claiming that she is a friend of Megan's from the art gallery. When they meet, she tells him she saw Megan kissing another man. Scott suspects that it might be her therapist, Kamal Abdic, and while checking out his website together, Rachel confirms that this is indeed the man she saw with Megan. Based on Scott's testimony, the police arrest Kamal. When they cannot find any evidence, they have to release him. Kamal's testimony about Scott's possessiveness in turn makes Scott a suspect. Sure that her sense of dread near the underpass is relevant to the case, Rachel feels compelled to stay involved. Slowly she remembers seemingly disconnected details: a red-haired man helping her as she stumbles down some stairs, crouching against the wall of the underpass near the train station, a fist hitting her, her head and hands bleeding, and a woman in a blue dress getting into a car.

Anna's Story

In a third plotline, Anna, Tom's second wife, recalls that she saw Rachel in the neighborhood on that Saturday evening. Angry at Rachel's continued harassment of her family and afraid that she might harm the baby, she decides to stay home rather than go out with friends and asks Tom to go after Rachel and calm her down. Her relationship to Tom developed from a clandestine affair while Tom was still married to Rachel. Although her friends warned her that Tom may never shed his philandering ways, she believes that her happy marriage proves them wrong.

Suspects Revisited

When the police find Megan's body in the woods, Rachel is more determined than ever to recover her lost memories. She decides to consult Kamal to have him help her remember, and to get confirmation that he was involved in Megan's murder. Encouraged by his calm and reassuring manner, she opens up about her past with Tom and confides that her infertility led to her excessive drinking, which in turn led to the deterioration of their marriage. But she does not admit that she suspects Kamal of murdering Megan. Kamal tells her that memories can sometimes be recovered by relying on sensory experience to stir the recollection of an event. Her sense of fear when near the underpass by the train station convinces Rachel that something terrible happened there and that it may have to do with Megan's disappearance. When Rachel reads that Megan killed her first baby and was pregnant when she was murdered, she goes back to Scott, and they have sex. Days later, Scott finds out that Rachel lied to him, that she never knew Megan, and that she has been seeing Kamal Abdic. He feels betrayed, flies into a rage, drags Rachel to an upstairs bedroom, and locks her in. Although he lets her go after a while, his outburst of violence convinces her that Scott, not Kamal, killed Megan. She goes to the police to tell them, but they dismiss her claims.

Anna's Suspicions

Anna has seen Rachel in the neighborhood several times, noticing her come and go from Scott's place. Outraged, she insists that Tom make her stay away. Tom promises to call her yet again. When Anna realizes that Tom met Rachel in person, she begins to suspect that he is still in love with his ex-wife. She finds a phone in his gym bag. Jealous, she turns it on and finds numerous short messages confirming meeting places and times. Listening to the outgoing voice mail message, she realizes that it is not Tom's phone but a woman's. She recognizes the voice.

Recovered Memories

Meanwhile, Rachel remembers that the woman in the blue dress is Anna and that she is getting into Tom's car. However, the memory feels wrong because Anna would never go anywhere without her baby. It suddenly hits her that she saw Megan get into Tom's car after he hit her, causing her head injury. Realizing the significance of this memory, she goes to Anna and begs her to leave the house. Anna knows that Tom had an affair with Megan from listening to the phone but does not believe that this means he killed her. At that moment, Tom arrives at the house.


Rachel tells Tom what she saw in the underpass and that she believes he killed Megan. Tom admits to the affair, but blames Rachel for creating the underlying situation that led to the murder. Her presence in the neighborhood made Anna stay home with the baby instead of going out with friends, which meant that Tom could not meet with Megan at the house and calmly talk to her. He also blames Megan, who supposedly threatened to expose their affair and make him take responsibility for their baby. In his mind, he had no choice but to kill her to save his family.

He sends Anna upstairs to tend to the baby and tries to kill Rachel. In self-defense, she kills him with a corkscrew. Anna calls the ambulance and the police, but not before she twists the corkscrew deeper into Tom's neck, ensuring his death. The two women cover for each other when talking to the police: Anna confirming that Rachel acted in self-defense, and Rachel confirming that Anna tried to save Tom's life.

Rachel travels north to visit Megan's grave and her first baby's grave, vowing to take control of her life, stay sober, and look for a job.

The Girl on the Train Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Rachel sees Jess kissing a man other than her husband.

Rising Action

2 Jess, whose real name is Megan, disappears.

3 Rachel and Scott learn that Megan kissed her therapist.

4 Kamal Abdic, the therapist, is released after questioning.

5 Megan's body is found.

6 Rachel visits Kamal to help her recover her memories.

7 Rachel and Scott make love.

8 Scott attacks Rachel.

9 Rachel remembers Tom hitting her.

10 Rachel remembers a woman getting into Tom's car.


11 Anna finds a phone in Tom's gym bag.

Falling Action

12 Rachel remembers that the woman in Tom's car was Megan.

13 Rachel goes to Anna's house.

14 Tom holds Rachel and Anna hostage.


15 Rachel kills Tom in self-defense.

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