'Girl on the Train' Author Shoots Down 'Gone Girl' Comparisons

Pike and Blunt -Publicity- Split-H 2016
Courtesy of Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox; Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Paula Hawkins' and Gillian Flynn's books (and films) share a zeitgeisty focus on the "unlikable" woman and a dark view of suburbia, as Universal hopes its take on the formula matches the success of the Fox hit.

Yes, they both have the world "girl" in the title, so naturally, comparisons will be drawn. And the two monster best-sellers — Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl — share more than just their eponymous protagonists. Both Train's Rachel Watson and Gone's Amy Dunne are unlikable, unreliable narrators, and both novels explore the theme of evil lurking in manicured suburbia. Hawkins and Flynn each use a missing woman and a suspect husband to drive the plot forward — main characters in Gone, side characters in Train. And both books rely on a tough-as-nails female detective (Kim Dickens in Gone, Allison Janney in Train) to get to the bottom of their equally dark and complicated mysteries.

For Hawkins, the similarities may run wide, but they aren't very deep. "Amy Dunne is a psychopath, an incredibly controlling and manipulative, smart, cunning woman — and Rachel's just a mess who can't do anything right," she says. "Amy is deliberately unreliable, while Rachel is accidentally unreliable because she got so pissed drunk."

Still, other parallels can be drawn. Both books spawned R-rated movies with October releases, Fox's Gone Girl earning $369 million worldwide during its 2014 run and an Oscar nomination for its lead actress, Rosamund Pike — with Universal very much aiming to match the earlier film's success in both the commercial and critical realms (and with Blunt, who has been nominated for Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for her work in such films as Into the Woods and The Devil Wears Prada, hoping to score her first Academy recognition).

One link Hawkins dismisses out of hand is the suggestion that she somehow was latching on to Gone's success when coming up with her own novel's title. "I do bristle at people saying, 'Oh, you slap "girl" on the front cover of the book and you have a best-seller,' and I just think, 'No, it doesn't really work that way, I'm afraid.' The Girl on the Train was a working title that never got changed, and it's a good title. I know it should be 'The Woman on the Train,' but it didn't scan."

Hawkins, whose novel currently is outpacing Flynn's at the same point in its publication run (though the Train tie-in edition is benefiting from a seven-month shorter book-to-movie window) hastens to add that she's a big fan of Gone Girl, both the book and the film. "The comparisons have done me no harm," she says with a laugh. "But I don't actually think they're very similar books."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.