Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
I have just recently gotten into thrillers, after a long stretch of being too scared, and the Girl Before is one of the best I have read so far. The Girl Before is a story about two women, Emma and Jane, who are very similar: scarred by a traumatic incident and living in the same house. The story takes place at two different times, now and then, and it delves into their personal development living in the technological smart house with strict and controlled rules (such as no books, no rugs, etc). It explores the seemingly similar path Jane goes down as she begins to piece together the previous tenant’s life and what tragedy befell her.
Just a small note on the style of the actual book. The chapters are arranged in two types: now as Jane and then as Emma. Because of the similarities between the two characters this distinction really helped. In addition, there are large sections of the book that are separated by questions from the property application. Early on I wondered if these had anything to do with the events, and it turns out that by the end of the novel, you have your answer.
Until you figure out, in the novel, the connection between Emma and Jane, I did not know what, besides their living situation, their similarity was. The suspense is palpable and it steadily grows until the very end, and even after. J.P. Delaney does an excellent job building the suspense, as well as constantly offering up surprises.
One element of the book I could not get over was the smart house. To me, that sounds like a nightmare, a terrifying one at that. I must have watched a film when I was younger about a smart house who turned on its owners and from the very beginning I could not get that image out of my head. I was convinced the house was going to turn into a monster and take over. The whole One Folgate Street scenario was quite extreme, so my vision only made sense. One Folgate Street is more of an experiment, you fill out assessments and everything is automatic (the lights, stove, security etc). Suffice it to say, I would never live there. I seem to have a deep suspicion about technology and its ethics.
The characters of this book while troubled, are deeply fascinating. They are so complex and richly layered. Even though, with a book told in first person, we are in their minds, there are so many secrets that are uncovered. This merely highlights the facts that we ourselves hide from the truth and our deepest fears. But this aspect gave the characters life and made them realistic. Because I cannot think of a pure villain or heroine, the complexity of the characters is even further emphasized. They are not flat or one dimensional, they have very real flaws that cause them to act in unfathomable ways. Yet they express regret, and guilt, and pain in a very human emotional way. You both want to defend them and pick them apart. These aspects make them great characters that truly stick with you even after the book ends.
I cannot talk too much about the details of the plot because I do not want to spoil the suspense and surprise you will have if you read it. I have read The Girl on the Train, but I think that this book is even better. I was more surprised by the ending, and there were a lot more elements that I found fascinating (such as the house, the nature of love and obsession). I felt that this plot had more depth and involved more characters. (I have never read Gone Girl or The Silent Wife so I cannot compare this book to that). If you have, I would be interested in knowing your thoughts. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes suspense, complex and troubled characters, and intricate plot lines. This book seeks to uncover, at the very foundation, can we change or are we doomed to repeat the same patterns over and over again? Even with the ending this idea is challenged and the question never fully answered. The mystery continues until the very last pages and beyond as we interrogate ourselves. Comment if you would want to live in a smart house (it doesn’t have to be the house from this book :P)
If you want to preorder the book (it releases January 24th) you can do so here on Amazon!
Book Cover image from Netgalley.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
Don’t forget to subscribe!