The Girl On The Train is one of the most successful books of the year and has already been on the New York Times best seller’s list for 23 weeks since its release in January. Compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the plot similarly pivots on suburban psychosis and focuses on one girl’s disappearance, leaving readers to figure out what happened with three very untrustworthy narrators telling their perspective.
1. The author, Paula Hawkins, was almost broke when she sent the unfinished manuscript with just 45,000 words to a publisher.
“I couldn’t afford to wait until I finished the book to get a deal. I needed some sort of income, and my agent thought the first half (of the book) was very strong. ‘The Girl on the Train’ was a last roll of the dice for me as a fiction writer,” she said.
2. It’s the fastest-selling adult novel in history.
The book has sold more than two million copies in the U.S. alone since it was published in January.
3. The book has already been optioned as a movie.
DreamWorks Studios bought the rights for movie adaptation and Marc Platt is set to direct it. Although the author is excited, she’s trying to take it all in stride.
“It’s very exciting, yet I’m trying to not be too excited,” she said. “These things take a really long time. It could be years, it may not happen. It feels unreal.”
Emily Blunt is in talks with DreamWorks to star in the film.
3. The author came up with the storyline while on her own commute.
“When I first moved to London and started commuting into the centre, the bits of the journey I loved most were when the train ran close enough to houses so that I could see right into people’s living rooms. I always found it gave me a feeling of connection, most strongly when you actually saw a person in there, making their morning tea or reading the paper. I never saw anything out of the ordinary, but I did start to wonder what would happen if I did: what would I do if I saw something shocking or frightening? That’s where the germ of the idea came about, but it was only much later, when I had the character of Rachel walking around in my head, that I started to think about how someone like her, lonely and damaged as she is, might react if she saw something strange on her daily commute, and I found that a whole world of possibility opened up,” she said.
4. The word ‘girl’ was used in the book’s working title long before “Gone Girl” ever became a hit.
“The Woman on the Train just didn’t sound as good. I’ll take care next time not to have girl in the title,” she told The Guardian. She knows the main character, Rachel, a 30-something, is “not a girl, but I do call people girls all the time – I refer to myself as a girl and I’m in my 40s”.
5. Before she wrote The Girl On The Train, Hawkins wrote several books under a pen name.
Under a pen name she published four novels – Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista, All I Want for Christmas, One Minute to Midnight and The Reunion – although none of them garnered much success. Hawkins said with each one she wrote, their stories became darker and darker until she realized romantic fiction wasn’t really her.
“The last one has loads of terrible things happening in it and ended up being rather tragic in a lot of ways,” says Hawkins with a laugh. “Nobody bought it.”
6. None of the characters are actually based on anyone in the author’s life.
In interviews Hawkins regularly gets asked if the book is based on anyone she knows but she insists they aren’t.
“There are small bits of me in all the women in The Girl on the Train(and possibly in a couple of the men, too). But the main the characters are works of the imagination,” she said.
7. Critics often compare Hawkin’s novel to last year’s successful psychological thriller Gone Girl, but she isn’t sure if this would happen if both books were written by men.
“I don’t know if this would have happened if the book had been written by the man. I don’t know if those same types of comparisons are made for books written by men. Certainly, there is a tendency to lump women who write similar types of books together, and it’s not just in crime, is it? Women’s fiction is supposedly a whole genre of itself. There’s no male equivalent.”
8. While doing research for the book, the author studied the way alcohol affects memory to better understand the way her characters would behave.
“I have read about it, and the thing about blackouts is, there still is quite a lot about blackouts induced by alcohol use that I think we just don’t know. It’s not completely understood why some people get them and other people don’t. That’s as far as I understand— there are probably scientists who will tell me I’m wrong. [laughs]”
“But it was quite useful to me because I could have parts where she does remember things and parts where she doesn’t. Also memory loss can be affected by a host of other things as well like a traumatic incident or a blow to the head. So the blackout is a useful device for the thriller writer, but there are obviously other factors at play when it comes to memory.”
9. Hawkins worked as a financial journalist prior to being a novelist.
“I spent a lot of time writing about tax and pensions and mortgages,” she said. Throughout the 90s she focused on writing about Eastern Europe then joined the Times, where she worked until 2004 before going freelance.
10. The book is inspired by the author’s love for all things Hitchcock.
“I was going for a slightly Hitchcock-style atmosphere. I did want that feeling of paranoia, self-doubt, suspicion. In that movie [“The Lady Vanishes”], everyone thinks that woman is making things up, and I wanted this book to have a similar sense. You can do fascinating things with the tricks memory can play and tell. People can come to believe things which didn’t happen at all if they’re told them enough times.
11. In creating the narrative, Hawkins wanted to write a crime novel that looked at what happened from the victim’s perspective.
“The stranger lurking in the dark alleyway or the man who breaks into the house are the stuff of nightmares, but in reality most victims of violence are attacked by someone they know, often in their own home, and that for me holds its own particular terrors, because you are talking about the place in which you are supposed to be safest, and the people in whom you are supposed to place your trust, ” she said.
“For example, we are told by politicians and other commentators that ‘stranger rape’ is so much worse for the victim than ‘date rape’, but this ignores the fact that an attack in the home, by someone you know, can be every bit as brutal and terrifying as an attack by a stranger, and it involves a devastating betrayal of trust.”
12. The book was almost written solely in Rachel’s POV.
In an interview with TIME, Hawkins said, “I actually started out just writing from Rachel’s perspective, but I thought that I needed to get inside Megan’s head as well, so I introduced her. Then, later on, I decided to write from three. For me, a lot of the book is about perceptions of people and how they change and how they can be completely off. So I think it was interesting to see these women all looking at each other and the men in their lives and make judgments. And then we can see it from somebody else’s viewpoint, and we can really understand the assumptions that are being made and the preconceptions that different people have.”
13. The author is already working on a follow up, a Gothic-tinged psychological thriller about sisters set in Northern England that will be released next summer.
“It’s about the relationship between two sisters and memory is a strong theme,’ she revealed. “The way we create memories is so unreliable that it’s possible to retain completely false memories of your childhood.”
Like The Girl On The Train, the book will also be an unconventional crime novel.
“There doesn’t always need to be a killing in it,” Hawkins said. “But there’s an atmosphere of menace that infects the everyday.”