In 2012, Gillian Flynn introduced us to the mysterious Gone Girl. Three years later, we met Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. In 2017, JP Delaney created a new girl: The Girl Before.
This book was perfect to fill my time babysitting while the kids slept. The unanswered questions built suspense and held my attention for the 336-page book.
The Girl Before follows the story of two unmarried women who have both been through tragedies — a stillbirth and a burglary — and move into One Folgate Street in London at different times. Emma, the ‘girl before,’ died in the house before Jane moved in. Jane, the current tenant whose appearance is like Emma’s, spends her time investigating Emma’s untimely death.
Both Emma and Jane befriend the peculiar, famous architect of the house, Edward Monkford. As a die-hard minimalist, he has strict rules, and the application process to live in One Folgate Street is tedious.
The application begins by making a list of necessary items, and from there the questions grow even more unusual, asking if you would save Michaelangelo’s “David” or a starving street child. Delaney scatters the questions throughout the novel, which forced me to pause, consider how I would truthfully answer and then dive back into the story.
Once the application was accepted, there were hundreds of rules the women had to follow: no clutter, few personal items, cameras in every room and required surveys to psychoanalyze the inhabitant. I was bewildered at how someone could live like that.
Each short chapter switched off between the two women. Emma’s were about her grief counseling after the burglary, while Jane’s described the emotional impact of her stillbirth. Delaney reuses the architect’s dialogue in Emma and Jane’s chapters to show the haunting similarities between their relationship with him. At times, I found myself questioning who was narrating the chapters.
In all honesty, the characters are well-developed, but their actions are confusing and hard to relate to given the dramatic irony of the situation. When I tried to theorize about Emma’s death, all my claims were proved wrong, and it was back to the drawing board.
InStyle claimed this book was going to be the “buzziest book of 2017,” comparing it with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I would have to agree. It’s different than all the other books on the shelves. It’s a fresh look at life from a minimalistic viewpoint. The Girl Before is becoming a movie, and I cannot wait for this psychological thriller to come to life in Ron Howard’s film adaptation.