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Thursday, April 23, 2015

What I'm Reading/Book Club (SPOILER ALERT!!)



April is rolling to an end (I can't believe May is already on the horizon!!), which means it's time for Book Club/What I'm Reading. Since we had two books this month, I am going to break up the discussion into two posts, starting with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The discussion questions from Penguin Books are below along with my responses. SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven't finished the book, do not read my answers. 

As for what I thought of the book overall, I really enjoyed it. It is a great, edge of your seat, type of read. If you're compiling your summer travel reading list, this would be a good one. If you read along with me, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share your answers to this month’s book club questions or share questions of your own in the comments.  Stay tuned for the announcement of next month’s book. Happy Reading! 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

We all do it—actively watch life around us. In this way, with her own voyeuristic curiosity, Rachel Watson is not so unusual. What do you think accounts for this nosey, all-too-human impulse? Is it more extreme in Rachel than in the average person? What is so different about her?

I think we have become a voyeuristic society because of all the access we have to people’s lives through reality shows, social media, YouTube, etc. It makes even the most boring things into entertainment. Because of that, we can often find ourselves watching other people’s lives unfold like an episode of Bravo’s latest project. I am certainly nosy while out in public—especially in restaurants/bars, trains and planes. I do think Rachel’s “curiousity” is more extreme in Rachel. Watching from the train is one thing. Showing up at people’s houses and making up lies to get access leaves moves her from voyeur to stalker. I think she is that way because of how broken she is. She latched on to her fantasy of Megan and Scott’s lives because she was missing so much in her own.

How would you have reacted if you’d seen what Rachel did from her train window—a pile of clothes—just before the rumored disappearance of Megan Hipwell? What might you or she have done differently?

My inclination is to say Rachel should have gone to the police as the clothes might have been evidence. That said, I’m not sure I would have done that. Also, having lived in NYC, there is all sorts of things (clothes, shoes, etc.) you see around the train. In Rachel’s shoes, maybe it would stand out but I likely would have taken the same action (or inaction) that she did.

In both Rachel Watson’s and Megan Hipwell’s marriages, deep secrets are kept from the husbands. Are these marriages unusual or even extreme in this way? Consider how many relationships rely on half-truths? Is it ever necessary or justifiable to lie to someone you love? How much is too much to hide from a partner?

I can’t really say it is ok to lie to someone you love. Honesty has to be a priority in every successful relationship. That said, do I say everything that comes to mind or lay out a daily itinerary for my husband? No. He doesn’t have to know every conversation I have or everything I do. I just don’t do things away from him that I wouldn’t do in front of him. I also think biting your tongue is occasionally necessary. Lying about having an affair, a past marriage, a baby who passed away or a drinking problem—basically all of the hidden things in this book—are not ok.

What about the lies the characters tell to themselves? In what ways is Rachel lying to herself? Do all people tell themselves lies to some degree in order to move on with their lives? Is what Rachel (or any of the other characters) is doing any different from that? How do her lies ultimately affect her and the people around her?

In one sense, I don’t think Rachel is lying to herself. I think she is fully aware that she is an alcoholic whose life is in shambles. She lies to everyone around her to try to preserve an image of a woman who has it together or to help (in Scott’s case). They can see through it and she knows that. I think Rachel’s problem lives in the lies she tells to others. They prevent her from getting help and put her in danger. I think Anna is lying to herself about feeling loved by Tom. And I can’t really touch Tom who is a total sociopath and lives a complete lie by his choosing.

I think we all tell ourselves little lies to move past hurt. “I’m fine” or “I’m strong” after a heartbreak may not be true but it can help you get to a place where you are. That’s different from Rachel’s statements: “Megan and I were friends.” “Scott needs me.” “I’m just trying to help.” “I’ll stop drinking tomorrow.” Really, she is looking for love and validation.

A crucial question in The Girl on the Train is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it? Consider examples from the book.

Memory often lies. It’s one reason police sketches and line up identifications are often inaccurate. People’s thoughts and perceptions are impacted by fear and anger. Even happiness can put a different shine on what really happened in a given situation. Throw alcohol on top of that and you’ve got very little in your memory that is reliable. Examples from the book include how Anna and Rachel differed in their memory of Rachel’s interaction with the baby or Rachel’s memory of the night she was hit in the head.

One of Rachel’s deepest disappointments, it turns out, is that she can’t have children. Her ex-husband Tom’s second wife Anna is the mother to a young child, Evie. How does Rachel’s inability to conceive precipitate her breakdown? How does the topic of motherhood drive the plot of the story? What do you think Paula Hawkins was trying to say about the ways motherhood can define women’s lives or what we expect from women’s domestic lives, whether as wives, mothers, or unmarried women in general?

I think it may be what led Rachel to drink and ultimately to Tom divorcing her. It was why she turned to alcohol—to numb the pain of her infertility. I think motherhood drives the story because each woman relates to motherhood in some way. Rachel in her need to fill the void of not being able to conceive, Anna in her use of Evie to tie her to Tom and Megan in her need to deal with the loss of her baby. I think there is some relation to motherhood in every woman. It could be in the desire to have children and the hearbreak of not being able to. It could be in an adamant resolve not to have children or it could be in the joy of being a mother. It shapes us. I don’t know that Hawkins is grouping women in that way but there are definitely central themes about the expectations of motherhood.

Think about trust in The Girl on the Train. Who trusts whom? Who is deserving of trust? Is Rachel Watson a very trustworthy person? Why or why not? Who appears trustworthy and is actually not? What are the skills we use to make the decision about whether to trust someone we don’t know well?

Maybe I missed it but no one in this book trusts anyone else. Rachel lies to everyone (roommate, mom, Tom, Scott) and no one believes she has it together. It seems like Anna trusts Tom but towards the end, you realize that she doesn’t and is waiting for him to cheat on her. Scott listens to Rachel but seems to know something is off—even before he finds out for sure that she is lying. Scott doesn’t trust Megan. He knows she has things to work through and doesn’t necessarily believe she has all the secrets that she does but he is also a phone checker and monitor.  

I don’t think any of the characters are trustworthy. The closest person to it is Rachel’s roommate because she seems to genuinely want to help Rachel. At points in the book, all (except Rachel) appear trustworthy until you learn more about them. To assess someone’s trustworthiness, I don’t look any further than my gut. If my gut instinct tells me to stay away from someone, I do.

Oh wait! I just had a memory…I think the ginger drinker from the train! He is trustworthy. He’s never anything but honest with Rachel and actually helps her remember the night of the crime. He’s initially written in an ominous way but turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Other characters in the novel make different assumptions about Rachel Watson depending on how or even where they see her. To a certain extent, she understands this and often tries to manipulate their assumptions—by appearing to be a commuter, for instance, going to work every day. Is she successful? To what degree did you make assumptions about Rachel early on based on the facts and appearances you were presented? How did those change over time and why? How did your assumptions about her affect your reading of the central mystery in the book? Did your assumptions about her change over its course? What other characters did you make assumptions about? How did your assumptions affect your interpretation of the plot? Having now finished The Girl on the Train, what surprised you the most?

I think Rachel is successful at fooling some people for a moment—her roommate for example. Most others see through it. In the beginning, on the facts presented, I thought Rachel was a regular corporate commuter, albeit a little lonely. Her fascination with the couple I’d later find out was Megan and Scott showed me a person longing for love. The cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic on the train didn’t alarm me. That is what the ride home on my commuter train looked like several years ago...especially on Fridays. As the book went on, I realized she had deep seated issues but I believe a lot of her version of events.

As for other characters, I never thought of Anna as the wallflower housewife that needed protection. I could tell right away there was something else there. I also thought of Tom as a liar but I didn’t see him as the killer or a sociopath for quite a while. I thought Scott was going to be abusive and the ultimate killer. That ramped up on the scene after he finds out Rachel was lying to him.

I don’t think my assumption affected my interpretation of the plot. I think as readers, we always guess what’s going to happen and look for little clues to modify that as a novel progresses. It makes the journey more exciting.

Tom’s whole life as a lie surprised me. The death of Megan’s baby surprised me as did her affair with Tom. The book was billed as, “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love The Girl on the Train. Both were suspenseful page turners.

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