One of the most frequent requests I get from customers as a bookseller is, “I really loved [insert book here] or [insert author here], and now I don’t know what to read next.” With my This Bookseller Recommends series, I will take a highly popular book or author and recommend other books to read that I think are similar in subject matter, style or general feel.
Today, I’m focusing on Paula Hawkins’ massive bestseller, The Girl on the Train. From the amount of people who have bought a copy from the shop I work at alone, I think the whole UK population must have read it by now. As she only has one book to her name so far (although this is due to change on the 2nd May!), I have had a lot of people coming into the shop desperate for their next Hawkins-esque fix. I don’t actually think that The Girl on the Train is the best example of this genre, personally – I have read better and will be recommending some of my favourites down below.
1. I Let You Go and
2. I See You, both by Claire Mackintosh
Claire Mackintosh is my favourite current writer in the thriller/“grip-lit” genre. Her 12 years on the police force are evident in her writing, which has a grit and realism about it that can sometimes be sorely lacking in this genre. Her two books remind me of The Girl on the Train for different reasons.
The central character of I Let You Go, Jenna, bears similarities to The Girl on the Train’s Rachel for various reasons. She’s also reached rock bottom in her life and doesn’t know which way to turn. She’s completely isolated herself from the world and is estranged from friends and family. The unreliable narrator factor in this book also very much comes into play. Whereas Rachel’s unreliability comes from her inability to remember events due to her alcoholism, I Let You Go is pervaded by the feeling that Jenna is deliberately hiding something very important, something to which allusions are frequently made but which remains undisclosed. Like in The Girl on the Train, Jenna’s secret really had me turning the pages. Also, the twist is probably my top twist in a thriller, ever.
I See You passed the second-novel test with flying colours and also has shades of The Girl on the Train about it. Not only does it have the same distinct London feel, kicking off as it does on the main character Zoe Walker’s daily tube commute when she sees a picture of herself in a lonely hearts newspaper ad that she knows absolutely nothing about; it also has the constant, creeping sense of unease and suspicion that so many people love about The Girl on the Train, as the main character realises that she’s somehow being watched…
3. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
Another absolutely stonking example of the unreliable narrator. The woman in this has a rare form of amnesia that causes her to lose all of her memories of the previous day when she falls asleep. On the day this novel opens, she receives a phone call directing her to a shoebox in her wardrobe, where she finds a diary she has been keeping for herself day by day – including a warning to herself not to trust her own husband. My hands were pretty much a blur turning the pages to find out what was going on – although don’t bother reading his second book, Second Life – it really doesn’t measure up, unfortunately.
4. Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon
Kate is a journalist who has slowly and systematically destroyed her life because of alcoholism. She’s lost her husband due to her inability to give up drinking and passes her days watching the clock until noon so that she can spend the afternoons drinking herself into oblivion. There were definite similarities between Kate and Rachel from The Girl on the Train – if you enjoyed the exploration of a character who has hit rock bottom because of alcohol, then you will also enjoy Try Not to Breathe. I would say that this book has a bit less pace in terms of plot but is more highly character-driven and psychological; however, the central mystery of a girl who has lain in a coma for 15 years, and Kate’s investigation to find the person who did it to her, is still highly compelling, as is Kate’s long and painful battle to free herself from the clutches of alcoholism.
5. The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney
This is a really interesting thriller told from two perspectives – that of Emma, from two years in the past and Jane, in the present. The two women both, for different personal reasons, end up residing at 1 Fulgate Street, a flat designed by a famous minimalist architect, who requires his tenants to live by an extensive set of extremely stringent rules in exchange for a comparatively low rent. Although I would say that this had the most different feel to The Girl on the Train, there were a couple reminiscent aspects. First, the doubt cast over the integrity of the narrators, which gradually intensified as I found out more about them. Second, it made me suspect pretty much every character at least twice. And I was still wrong.
And, of course…
Her next book comes out on the 2nd May and it’s one of this year’s most highly anticipated books. She’s got a lot to live up to and hopefully she won’t succumb to the dreaded second novel syndrome – I can’t wait to find out!
Were you a fan of Girl on the Train? Have you read any books that remind you of it, or any that you thought were better? I’d love to hear any thoughts and recommendations!