The Girl Before
Ever since the release of Gillian Flynn's mega-hit GONE GIRL in 2012, the thriller genre has been inundated with the next big thing to follow in Flynn's footsteps. We've seen Paula Hawkins' THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN lead the pack in what seems to be a myriad of similar girl-in-peril and multiple-points-of-view narratives flooding the publishing world.
The 2017 entry in this craze is JP Delaney's highly touted THE GIRL BEFORE, which plays out like a cross between a Hitchcock movie and an episode of the terrific British techno-thriller series “Black Mirror.” The story unfolds with back-to-back chapters for most of the novel depicting both Jane in the present and Emma in the past. We get to see each of their individual stories play out in the same setting, and watch in edge-of-the-seat anticipation as Jane begins to make the same mistakes as Emma.
"THE GIRL BEFORE is an electric thriller that will keep readers guessing right up to the finale.... When Emma's story ends, it becomes all about Jane, and you will be reading with trepidation as her story concludes in surprising fashion."
That similar setting is the architectural beauty located at One Folgate Street. The house, built by architect Edward Monkford, is starkly designed with several open areas and minimal fluff. As a matter of fact, prospective owners have to complete an odd questionnaire to even receive consideration. They also cannot decorate the house with personal effects, rugs, books, pillows, etc. There is no Google or any other search engine allowed on the computers used inside the home; a personal online assistant named Housekeeper takes care of this. Housekeeper also provides additional questions that must be answered by the occupant lest certain amenities like running water or lights be turned off until answers are received.
Most normal people would be suspicious of odd questions/requests like: Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life; I have no time for people who don't strive to better themselves (Agree or Disagree); You have a choice between saving Michelangelo's statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose? Emma and Jane have no problem complying because they enjoy their amenities and need to live there for different reasons.
Emma had a traumatic break-up with her boyfriend, Simon, and needs an escape. Jane is still grieving from the loss of a child and wants a clean slate. As we read each of their stories, we see some startling similarities. Both women begin sleeping with Monkford, and each gets pregnant. The one major difference is that Emma is found dead at the bottom of a staircase inside the home with her head bashed in, while Jane becomes obsessed with finding out exactly what happened to the girl who lived in the house before her so that she doesn’t end up the same way.
I found a couple of other things very interesting about Monkford and his creation. The site on which the house was built was where a home once sat that was destroyed by German bombs during the Great War. Monkford also likes to bring his lady friends to buildings he admires and confesses that he was addicted to the work of the famous British architect Sir Christopher Wren. It’s quite ironic that Christopher Wren was the name of a character in Agatha Christie's famous story, THE MOUSETRAP, a man who may not be what he appears to be.
THE GIRL BEFORE is an electric thriller that will keep readers guessing right up to the finale. The house itself plays a pivotal role in the plot much in the same way as the high-tech hi-rise apartment building in Ira Levin's SLIVER. I enjoyed the dual narratives and never felt that the back-to-back chapter jumps were gimmicky or tiresome. When Emma's story ends, it becomes all about Jane, and you will be reading with trepidation as her story concludes in surprising fashion.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 26, 2017