Rachel rides the train into London every day. Every day the train stops at a signal near the house of a young married couple. Rachel often sees the couple outside on their back porch, and has named them Jason and Jess. But one day, Rachel sees Jess on her porch with someone else, a man who she seems to be intimate with, and it throws off her entire fantasy. And when Jess - whose real name turns out to be Megan Hipwell - turns up missing on the news the next day, Rachel believes that it's not the husband but the lover who is responsible. But does anyone, other than her, even know about him?
I can see why this book has become so popular. It was a very enjoyable murder mystery, enhanced (in my opinion) by the unreliable narrator. I'll admit that I sometimes get tired of the concept - which seems more prevalent lately - of using an unreliable narrator to add plot twists, but I thought that this book used it very well. The narrator wasn't intentionally lying to the reader at any point - she couldn't remember certain things due to being black-out drunk - and when she began to "remember" things that happened, she questioned the validity of the memories right along with us.
I do understand the complaint that some people have with the book that it's hard to get into because none of the characters were likable. I get this, I do. But I've read a lot of books lately - not intentionally - with unlikable main characters, so this didn't bother me as much as it might some people. Also, I actually liked Rachel. I thought she was screwed up and kind of horrible at times, but for (sort of) legitimate reasons. She's a depressed, lonely alcoholic who's still in love with her ex-husband - not the recipe for a completely rational individual. But I like that she tried to do the right thing. And she knew that she was an alcoholic - she made attempts to not drink in order to be a better person, even if her attempts didn't always work out.
The book was actually narrated, in alternating chapters, by Rachel and Megan, and later Anna - Rachel's ex-husband's new wife. I liked getting an inside look at who Megan really was, even if I didn't really like who she was after finding out more about her; although by the end I didn't really hate her, either. (Anna, on the other hand, was pretty horrible).
I think the biggest complaints I hear about this book come from the characters - how unlikable the narrators are, how horrible all of the male characters are - and I guess you're enjoyment is going to hinge a lot on whether you can muster up any sympathy for Rachel. I could. But the mystery, I think, stands up either way. I thought that the plot was solid, a good mystery that wasn't full of plot holes once the secrets started coming out. I'll admit that my first idea of whodunnit was wrong, and while I did guess the big reveal a few chapters before it was made clear, it wasn't early enough in the book that I can really be proud of it. This story kept me guessing and, more importantly, kept me interesting. I couldn't wait to come back to the book to find out what was going to happen next.
I'm not saying the book is perfect, but I didn't really find any major flaws with it either. Everything that happened made sense within context, no major reveals coming out of left field without anything previous in the story to back it up, no glaring plot holes. It's a solid murder mystery that will probably keep you guessing and should at least keep you interesting... If you can deal with the characters. But I hope you can. Because I think it's worth it in the end. And because I think Rachel is kind of endearing. But maybe that's just me...