The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I don’t normally go for “best sellers,” mainly because I’ve found that what sometimes constitutes a best seller, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, is actually terrible literature. In this case, I was quite happy to be wrong. The Girl on the Train is wildly popular and being made into a movie, and is so well-written and intense that I devoured it in one afternoon of sofa slumping and wine sipping.

The premise: a woman who takes the train back and forth to London each day, sees the same couple in a house along the railroad tracks, and begins to make up stories about their lives. She ends up becoming involved in their lives for real when disaster strikes, and reality and fantasy collide. I liked the idea about watching other people’s lives and inventing tales about them, because we have all done that. I have endlessly imagined this man, that woman, what lives they lead behind their public facades, because let’s face it. We all have the side we show to the public, there is our private self, and oftentimes, there is what Billy Joel called “The Stranger,” that unknowable side of our inner self that often surprises us with how wonderful or horrible we truly are.  This book touches on all of those aspects of self and personality, told from three different viewpoints. What amazed me about this book is that it was so well-written, so fast-paced, and so gripping and addicting, and there was not a single character I liked. Couldn’t stand any of them, in fact. Well done, Paula Hawkins, well done. It’s rare to read a book in which every character is someone you’d never want to meet in real life, yet all of their actions are understandable and even draw sympathy, while you’re also cringing in humiliation or anger at them. Much like real life.

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Often, this book was like the proverbial train wreck…….ahem, pardon the pun. The behavior of the characters is often dreadful to observe, yet you can’t look away. It’s really an addictive story, so don’t start it late at night or when you’re going to have to put it down and do something else. I guarantee you won’t.

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The main character, Rachel, whose voice is the primary narrator, is a major alcoholic so right from the off, she is the typical unreliable narrator.(Not that any of them are reliable, but I digress.) Anyway, near the beginning of the story, she decides to make herself a healthy, substantial meal – something she hasn’t had in awhile – while her roommate is out.

“Cathy was out when I got home, so I went to the off-license and bought two bottles of wine. I drank the first one and then I thought I’d take advantage of the fact that she was out and cook myself a steak, make a red-onion relish, have it with a green salad. A good, healthy meal.”

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A clever bit of foreshadowing there with the bloody steak, setting the stage for bloodletting to come. But I don’t want to give away too much of the book, so back to the food. Steak is easy, and it was the red-onion relish I wanted to make. I’d tried caramelizing onions once before, which was great fun and the basis of this nifty little recipe. If you’ve never caramelized onions, give it a try some lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s like making risotto – constant stirring and stress relief all rolled into one. I find repetitive motion very soothing, and since I already think of cooking as therapy, this is my tried-and-true way of calming myself.

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Both the meat and the onion relish are more methods than recipes. The steak marinade was simple: soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, garlic powder, red wine, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, ground pepper, and a flank steak, no bones but nice marbling. Marinate the steak up to an hour, overnight if you’re not starving from a long-ass day of being a bureaucrat, like me, and cook it stovetop in a super hot, cast-iron pan for up to 6 minutes total, turning every 1 minute to ensure even cooking and a good searing. Prod the surface occasionally with your tongs to ensure it still has bounce and is not rock hard and thus, overcooked.And know that if your steak doesn’t have the bone in, it will cook much faster.

As for the onion relish, again, it’s a method so not a lot of specific measurements. And well, it’s all about the stirring once the onions get brown, so stay near the stove with a glass of wine in your hand and imagine how good these little glossy brown strands of flavor will taste piled onto a good, juicy, bloody steak.

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INGREDIENTS

5 small red onions or 3 large red onions, sliced into thin half-moons
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Knob of butter
Sea salt and ground pepper
3 cloves of garlic, grated
Pinch of sugar
Splash of red wine

METHOD

Heat the olive oil and butter in a cast-iron skillet. Put in the sliced onions, stir around and season them with the salt, pepper, grated garlic, red wine vinegar, and the sugar, which helps with the caramelizing down the road.

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Stir them fairly frequently the first 5-10 minutes, until the moisture begins to evaporate and that deep reddish-brown color starts to develop. At that point, leave them to cook and only stir occasionally. I go by eye, because until you’ve actually caramelized onions, it’s hard to describe.

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You’ll know by color and by the delicious smell of them, but it’s hard to describe in words. You probably don’t want to go over 30 minutes total cooking, but just go by eye and nose. We all know when something is overcooked, so trust your instincts and sense of smell and sight.

This is ultimately what you want.

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Sooooooo good! Sometimes only a slab of red meat will do. My meal of steak and caramelized onions went down well with a glass of red wine, and I didn’t have a single bloody thought at all while eating.

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“And I have to get up early tomorrow morning……to catch the train.”

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6 thoughts on “The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

  1. i was struck by how well-witten the girl on the train was, for a best-seller-type book. and how you really did care for the horribly sad / self-destructive narrator. glad you’re enjoying the blog. feel free to spread the word! (sorry, i’ve become a human ball of self-promotion 😦 ).

    – cheers.

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    1. Yes, it was amazing how unlikable she was and yet you were rooting for her all the way. And I am totally about shameless self promotion so I’ll be glad to share your blog, which is flipping hilarious, by the way.

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      1. thank you! i think the thing about rachel is she was a well-done. even though the story is implausible, as pretty much all murder mysteries are, she felt real, and she was suffering and pathetic, so of course as a reader you feel for her.

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