The Girl Before definitely deserves a full review, because it’s a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. I’ve tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible but if you’d like to see ’em, they’re hidden under spoiler tags. (Read at your own risk!) Now buckle up!
The Girl Before is short enough to read in one sitting but it packs the punch of a larger novel. From page one we’re swept along on an increasingly taut thrill ride as we try to figure out the mysteries of the sleek “smart home” at One Folgate Street and its inhabitants.
The book alternates POVs between Jane, moving into the home in present day, and Emma, the previous tenant. Shattered by personal traumas and looking for a fresh start, both of the women see One Folgate Street as a refuge. But as they embark on suspiciously similar journeys, including relationships with the home’s mysterious architect, they instead find themselves in increasing peril.
The quietness and the proud look of it. Nothing very bad could happen to you there…
And if that doesn’t sound intriguing enough, it gets better: not a single character in these pages is trustworthy. Oh, you like unreliable narrators? The Girl Before ups the ante with not one but multiple narrators who are not what they appear. Why does everyone in Emma’s life seem to know a different version of her? And Jane–how far would she go to overcome her own tragedy?
Then there’s the architect, Edward Monkford, a minimalist genius who seems to have a lot of skeletons tucked tidily away, including a dead wife with an eerie resemblance to both Emma and Jane. I have to say right off the bat that I generally dislike the trope of the rich, hot, demanding man with peculiar and expensive tastes. There are so many carbon copies of Christian Grey running around the literary world that it’s gotten a little tiresome. (Also, these men just grate on my nerves!) But in this case, it works. Edward may have his quirks, but the women he’s romancing have their own unsavory agendas, as well.
I feel like this is important to mention because I know some reviewers have said they felt like this was just another book about a domineering man and the helpless women who fall under his sway. But by the end of the book it’s clear that Emma and Jane are equal matches for Edward.
Emma was a truly despicable character–I mean, in a very short span of time, she manages to lie about being raped, being abused, and having cancer; not to mention almost all of this springs from an attempt to hide her affair with a married man, whom she goes on to accuse of sexual harassment, rather than admit she cheated on her boyfriend. (Whew!) As her lies pile up it’s hard to tell what, if anything, in her backstory is the truth. By the end of the book I honestly thought Edward got in over his head with her.
As for Jane, she manipulates and lies to everyone around her, including Edward, to get what she wants–namely, a pregnancy. I can’t say I don’t admire her tenacity, but her methods do feel a bit slimy. If anything, she and Edward deserved each other.
I do have a couple of small gripes about the book. For starters, the narration from Emma and Jane is practically identical. I had to keep flipping back to the start of each chapter to figure out who was “speaking”. Second, the ending wasn’t really a surprise, though I could chalk that up to oversaturation in this genre. Not much catches me off guard anymore!
I felt like Simon was such an obvious choice for a killer–the jilted ex-lover who foreshadows his role early on when he tells Emma he still has the door code for One Folgate Place. But in all fairness, I would probably have made the same remark if Edward had filled that role–“oh, the super controlling rich guy is a murderer? Groundbreaking!” Some of the other potential suspects–the burglar from Simon’s flat, the stalker from Edward’s past–are such obvious red herrings that they didn’t even feel worth a mention.
Finally, I’m including some content warnings because this book does touch on a lot of very sensitive subjects. I’ve hidden the CW under a spoiler tag below.
The plotlines include sometimes graphic discussions of a violent home invasion, rape, assault, eating disorders, drug & alcohol abuse, animal cruelty, miscarriage, debate over whether to abort an at-risk pregnancy, stalking, filming intimate moments without consent, and domestic violence. I know that is a lot to wade through, hence the CW!
Overall The Girl Before was an extremely solid read and I flew through it in one sitting. I did knock off one star from my rating due to the small issues I mentioned above. Those aside, this book is impossible to put down and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from this author!
The Girl Before, by J.P. Delaney (2017); 341 pages; mystery, suspense, thriller. Four out of five stars. See more about this book on Goodreads.