Book No 34 : The Girl On the Train

Commuting is a tiresome business. Squashed, sweaty, no seats, same old, same old. Rachel travels in to Euston every day, but instead of doing something useful like reading a novel or teaching herself Mandarin, she stares out of the windows. The main object of her scrutiny is the street where she used to live with her husband, Tom. He still lives there but with his new wife, Anna and their baby, Evie. A few doors down Blenheim Road lives another young couple, Jason and Jess: Rachel watches and notices things about them, sees them out on their terrace together. Only they aren’t called Jason and Jess, that is just Rachel’s fantasy; their names are actually Scott and Megan. When Megan goes missing, Rachel may have seen something which could help find her. The difficulty is that Rachel drinks; and she drinks so much that sometimes she can’t remember exactly what she did see.

The novel is narrated by three alternate characters; Rachel, Megan and Anna. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that the three women are interlinked in more ways than were obvious at first. Despite the immense hype around this thriller, comparing it to other successful publications such as ‘Gone Girl‘ and ‘Before I Go to Sleep‘, I was not taken with it. Characters don’t have to be unfailingly kind, generous and witty for me to enjoy a book, there is a lot of enthralling literature about dark and evil people. But the cast of Hawkins’ book is perpetually gloomy; the females are unreliable and untrustworthy, the men are duplicitous and violent. Even the baby grizzles. As the narration itself is well-suited to a suburban London setting i.e grey and repetitive, the plot needed to be extraordinary to lift the novel out of the doldrums. Sadly, I didn’t think it was as although there is a twist in the end, it was predictable.

Two-thirds of the way through reading ‘The Girl on the Train‘, I pondered what I would do if the book was swept out of my hands by a huge tidal wave: would I be so desperate to discover Megan’s fate that I would swim against an oceanic tide to recover it? Sadly not, I concluded. I would have been quite happy to let it drift away. Hardly a recommendation, I know, but life is too short to be a trainspotter.

Film No 35 (2014) : Before I Go to Sleep

before i go to sleepThis film is an adaptation of the thriller written by S.J.Watson (who, incidentally, is a man. In case you wondered).  The premise of the story is straightforward: Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) has survived some kind of trauma, but has been left with a specific form of amnesia. Every night whilst she sleeps, her memory is erased. Every morning her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), has to remind her who she is, who he is, how they met etc. By the end of the day she begins to piece together more recollections, but forgets them by the next morning, when the whole cycle begins again.

We begin to understand some of the frustrations of Christine’s memory loss as Ben leaves lists pinned to the wall to remind his wife to carry out certain tasks. A montage of photographs provides a pictorial record of the couple’s life before tragedy struck. It seems as if this endless cycle of remembering, sleeping and forgetting would remain unbroken, but the audience learns that Chris has secretly been seeing a neuro-psychiatrist, Dr Mike Nash (Mark Strong). With Dr Nash’s help, Chris begins to recover and retain more memory, using a video diary to re-cap on what she knew the previous day. But as she emerges from her brain-fog, questions begin to arise about whom Chris she can trust. Suspicion falls upon Ben and Chris is forced to unravel some disturbing mind-games before the truth of her situation is finally revealed. There is undoubtedly tension throughout the film, heightened by some shockingly violent scenes, making you wonder what other dangers are lurking.

One striking thing about the cinematography is that it is almost totally devoid of bright colour. Clothes are drab, the exterior of the Lucas’ house is monochromatic, the effect accentuated by the white bark of the silver birch trees which surround it. Interiors are stylised and stark, as is most of the background scenery. Much of the action takes place in semi or total darkness. In contrast to this subdued lighting, it is only when Chris’ memory is at its most acute, when there are periods of optimism, that light comes flooding in.

It was extremely difficult to be objective about the film when I already knew the ending, in that Bruce Willis ‘Sixth Sense’ way. My feeling is that it may be quite difficult to tie up some of the flashbacks, memory relapses etc if the plot was unfamiliar. There is no doubt though, that the intricacies of the psychological battles and demons which Chris fights, have been greatly simplified within the film, and I think this is to the detriment of the movie. Given a choice on this one, I’d go with the written version.

Coming out of the Picture House though, I had a sense of what it must be like to have one’s memory wiped overnight, as I experienced that alarming feeling of having absolutely no idea where I had parked my car. But that happens to me 9 times out of 10. I park, I lock the car, I go about my business, only to return to wander aimlessly about the sea of silver Ford Fiestas and abandoned shopping trolleys, hoping that some feature of the landscape will prompt me to recall the whereabouts of my battered Passat. Multiplying that sensation to not being able to remember where I left my husband, or children – or even who my family members are, would be seriously terrifying. I’m not even sure that waking up every morning and seeing Colin Firth on my pillow would compensate for that kind of distress!