Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Narrative Voices in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

One way of telling a story from multiple points of view is to allow multiple narrators to speak. Robert Browning does this with his novel in verse, The Ring and the Book, the story of a crime with witnesses telling what happened from their unique points of view. Gillian Flynn uses this narrative technique for Gone Girl. Barbara Kingsolver also uses this technique for The Poisonwood Bible

Each of these authors allows the character to tell the tale in first person, but surely, we’ve learned from F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, that first-person narrators may not be worthy of our trust. They may not know the truth themselves, or they may have good reason to lie.

Paula Hawkins’ narrators for The Girl on the Train are guilty of both. They don’t always know the truth, and they certainly have reasons to lie.

My lament is that Hawkins’ narrators are otherwise indistinct. One narrative voice sounds so much like another unlike Kingsolver’s narrators, each distinct in vocabulary, syntax, and tone.

Lake of the Ozarks State Park
Osage Beach, Missouri
January 1, 2015
Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography
It’s possible, of course, that Hawkins’ narrators are similar by design. After all, as I suggested last week, each woman bears the scars of misogyny, some more permanently imbedded than others, some absolutely irreversible. These women long for love and wonder why they are restless and unfulfilled in the degree of love they’ve found. They resent the men who seem to inspire their ennui.

Still each woman is distinct. Each has been damaged by different forces and in different ways. They are not cloned or mirror images of the others except in gender so I judge it a fault that the narrators do not have voices and patterns of thought that make them as unique as their damages.

Reading Challenge:

Read The Girl on the Train and The Poisonwood Bible

Writing Challenge:

Tell the same story using two different narrators. Distinguish each narrator by more than name and circumstance. Distinguish the narrators by diction, syntax, and tone.

Connye Griffin writes My Writing and Editing Coach