'Girl on the Train'


Author made her Michigan debut May 17 in Ann Arbor

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Author Paula Hawkins didn’t expect her breakout novel “The Girl on the Train” to become this worldwide phenomenon. 

“I was optimistic – my publishers and my agent were really excited about the book, so we hoped it would become a bestseller. But no one was prepared for what a huge hit it became,” said Hawkins, of London, who’ll sign copies of her latest psychological thriller “Into the Water” (Penguin Random House $28) at the event “Paula Hawkins in Conversation with Author Nick Petrie,” taking place at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. (see below).

When “Girl” was released in early 2015, it debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List and remained there for 40 weeks. To date, more than 20 million copies have been sold worldwide, making it the fastest-selling adult hardcover novel in history.

In “Girl,” Rachel is on a self-destructive streak: She’s lost her job and is an alcoholic prone to violent blackouts. She spends her days aimlessly commuting on a train, watching her ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna. The couple has a young daughter, which is a sore spot with Rachel because she failed to become pregnant during her marriage to Tom. After an alcohol-induced blackout, Rachel awakens with blood on her hands and soon learns she’s the prime suspect in the murder of a young woman named Megan. She can’t remember anything of this incident and must piece together her fragmented memory to clear her name.

Asked why “Girl” caught on the way it did, Hawkins replied: “I wish I knew! Part of it has to do with the protagonist, Rachel, who is difficult and frustrating and unusual, but relatable at the same time. She’s someone we recognize, someone we might meet in our own lives. And part of it is to do with the fact that we all share that voyeuristic impulse – even if we don’t take the train, all of us watch the people around us, we imagine their lives, imagine what our lives might be like in their shoes.”

An eponymous movie was fast-tracked into production and released Sept. 20, 2016, starring Emily Blunt as Rachel. According to Hawkins, it’s unheard of for a film adaptation – something she was happy with – to come out so quickly after the publication of the book.

“I thought it was a good adaptation. The filmmakers were faithful to the spirit of the book, to its darkness and claustrophobia,” she said. “And I thought Emily Blunt was outstanding as Rachel: She brought all of the character’s self-loathing and sadness to the screen.”

In “Water,” a single mother ends up dead at the bottom of the river, sharing the same fate as a teenage girl earlier in the summer. It turns out, they’re not the first who’ve been lost to these dark waters and their deaths unearth some dark secrets best left buried. Having lost her mother,  Lena, 15, is now parentless and friendless. She ends up living with her aunt – her mother’s younger sister – who must return to the river to seek answers, something she vowed never to do.

“There were a few ideas which led to this story: I started with sisters, Jules and Nel, with the idea of an intensely troubled sibling relationship, two women driven apart by something terrible that happened to them in childhood. And I started too with the water – an element to which some of us are drawn and by which others are repelled. The river runs right through this book; it is at the heart of the town, its link to its history – and it divides Jules and Nel,” explained Hawkins.

The author’s favorite character in “Water” is Lena, although she found it challenging writing from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl.

“She’s angry, resilient and fiercely loyal. It was a bit of a challenge to write from her viewpoint – it’s been a long time since I was 15 – but I do vaguely remember it,” said Hawkins.

Despite the dark themes in her novels, Hawkins stated she’s managed to detach herself from them – for the most part.

“I’m pretty good at leaving the work behind at the end of the day. There are some passages which upset me though; I find it hard to re-read them,” she said. “I’m very lucky to do something I love.”

The success of “Girl” has made her much busier. She travels more and attends more festivals, which gives her less time to write.

“But other than that, I don’t feel much different,” said Hawkins. “I still live in London – although in a larger apartment. I still have the same friends, my home-life is much the same.”

She’s looking forward to traveling to Nicola’s on May 17 – her only Michigan stop and her first appearance in Michigan during the United States leg of the “Water” book tour. There, both Hawkins and Petrie will read excerpts from their latest novels, participate in a Q&A session with the audience, and sign their books.

Petrie praised Hawkins’ work.

“Paula’s prose is crisp, inventive and often funny, and her characters, including the river itself, are drawn with a fine-tipped pen. But what I loved the most about (‘Water’) is how the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I read.  The very pages seem haunted, in the very best of ways,” said Petrie.

An alumnus of the University of Michigan and the University of Washington, Petrie won the Hopgood Award for short fiction during his undergraduate days at U-M. His short-story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in The Seattle Review. His first novel, “The Drifter” – which introduces Peter Ash, a veteran with severe claustrophobia and post-traumatic stress disorder from his tour of duty overseas – was nominated for the 2016 Edgar Award, the 2016 International Thriller Writer Award, and the 2016 Barry Award for Best First Novel. It won the 2016 Hammett Prize for Best Novel. His second novel, “Burning Bright,” released in January, also features Ash.

“Visiting indie bookstores is one of my favorite parts of being on tour – it’s always such a pleasure to meet booksellers and readers (and) chat about the books they’re excited about at the moment,” said Hawkins.
Lawyer-turned-novelist Anthony Franze, author of “The Outsider,” and a former Michigan State University law professor, also is a Hawkins fan.

“Just as (John) Grisham and (Scott) Turow revitalized the legal thriller, Paula Hawkins brought new life to the psychological thriller,” said Franze.  “From the first page of (‘Girl’), readers knew the book was something special, and (‘Water’) also has that intangible ‘it’ factor.  Hawkins’s storytelling evokes (Alfred) Hitchcock, with prose that will knock the wind out of you.”

“Paula Hawkins in Conversation with Author Nick Petrie” is a free event that’s open to the public. It will occur at Nicola’s Books, located in the Westgate Shopping Center at 2513 Jackson Ave. in Ann Arbor. Seating is first-come/first-serve. However, if you purchase “Into the Water” through Nicola’s, you will get a line ticket, which gives you priority status to have your book signed over those who haven’t purchased it through Nicola’s but still wish to have it signed. For further information, call Nicola’s at (734) 662-0600.