The Girl on the Train | Study Guide

Paula Hawkins

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The Girl on the Train | Rachel (Chapter 1) | Summary



On Friday morning, July 5, 2013, Rachel rides the commuter train between London and Ashbury. She notices a pile of clothes left discarded near the track. In the evening Rachel is back on the train, sipping gin and tonic. She remembers her first-ever holiday with Tom and the things they used to do on the weekends. Thinking of the empty weekend ahead, she drinks more.

On Monday morning, July 8, 2013, Rachel is back on the train. From her usual spot she has a good view of trackside house number 15. Jess, the woman living there, often has her morning coffee out on the terrace. Rachel enjoys imagining her life. Back on the train that evening, Rachel is drinking wine.

On Tuesday morning, Jess is standing on the terrace. As the train moves on, Rachel refuses to look at the house up the street: 23 Blenheim Road is the house she used to share with Tom. Now he lives there with Anna and their baby. Rachel lives in the spare bedroom of a duplex belonging to Cathy, a casual college friend who offered temporary lodging after Rachel's divorce.

On Wednesday morning Rachel cannot see Jess or her husband Jason. She imagines that Jason, a doctor, is away on business, and that Jess, a painter, is upstairs painting. Yet she admits that she doesn't know their professions; in fact, she doesn't even know their names. She imagines them to be what she and Tom used to be.

As she passes by her former house on Thursday morning, she remembers that when she was drunk the night before, she called Tom and told him she still loves him. Relatively speaking, this isn't as bad as the many other things she's done under the influence, like swinging at Tom with a golf club during a fight and damaging a wall or being sent home from work because she was drunk. That evening on the train she gets a call from Tom, and he tells her that she needs to stop calling him and needs to go to an AA meeting instead.


Right from the start, a sense of loneliness and loss oozes off the pages when Rachel, the first-person narrator, describes a pile of colorful clothes discarded near the train tracks. The clothes are as out of place near the tracks as Rachel feels in Cathy's apartment. She is a temporary lodger in somebody else's house. She still thinks of the house she shared with her ex-husband as her house, although he now shares it with his new wife and their baby. This suggests that she has not yet overcome and moved on from their breakup. In her imagination, Jason and Jess, the couple living in the house down the road, represent what she and Tom used to be. In fact they are what she still longs to be: a perfectly happy young couple with plans for the weekend. In contrast she has nothing to look forward to when she goes to London in the morning or when she goes home to Ashbury in the evening. One evening when she calls Tom and tells him that she still loves him, it becomes clear that their breakup was not her idea and may in part have been caused by her drinking and by her erratic behavior when drunk.

Rachel feels guilty about her drinking, about her behavior when she is drunk, and about the way she has let herself go. Her low self-esteem becomes all too clear when she imagines that other people find her distasteful because she has put on weight and has become puffy from all the drinking. Her shabby looks and her defeated demeanor, she fears, suggest to others that she is damaged goods. She cannot imagine that anyone would find her attractive and, as a result, cannot blame her husband for leaving her. Like the clothes near the tracks, she feels worn and unattractive, abandoned by her husband. His voice on the phone, while gentle and supportive, very clearly tells her that he has moved on, that she is no longer a part of his life, and that she needs to move on as well. Her pain over his message becomes palpable when she squeezes a cut on her finger so hard that it begins to bleed, as if to suggest that every time the train passes by her old house, an old wound is torn open.

The beginning pages set the novel's structure, pace, and tone. The reader expects that the novel will follow Rachel's routine on the commuter train every morning and evening, Monday through Friday, relating her perspective on life along the tracks. The houses on Blenheim Road rush past while Rachel sits by the window, watching, like a voyeur rather than an actor, from the outside looking in, not partaking.

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