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The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney

BOTTOM LINE: I loved its twisty deviousness.

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publication Date: 24 January 2017
Source: Publisher

Synopsis from the Publisher:

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.”

My Thoughts: The Girl Before is really a tale of two women. On the surface, both are very similar. They have to be given the fact that they both pass the extreme vetting required for any tenant of the house. It is once they are in the house where their differences shine and where the drama takes on its psychological messiness.

The premise of living in an architectural masterpiece has its appeal. The technology of the house alone sounds drool-worthy, and the minimalist design certainly coincides with the current trend. I have heard a lot of complaints about the rule about no books, but Jane finds a way to live with the rule that makes sense and still allows her to read. We try so hard to improve ourselves – to eat healthier, to live healthier, to appear more polished, to improve our posture, our sleep habits, etc. – that a house that can help you do all that is definitely attractive, and one can see how easy it is for Emma and Jane to desire to live there.

I have also heard complaints that the novel has a 50 Shades vibe to it. Now, I have not bothered to read that series, but I know enough about the premise to catch the meaning behind the complaints and question their validity. Yes, The Girl Before is very much about control, and, yes, there are some sex scenes that might make people uncomfortable. However, the scenes are not explicit. There are allusions to some BDSM-type behavior, but the author leaves the details to your imagination. Moreover, the point is not the sex itself but how each woman reacts in those situations. To focus on the BDSM or to view it as abusive is to miss the point of the entire story.

The story is about control. Emma and Jane both want to take back control of their lives after certain devastating tragedies. The architect wants to control his art and the inhabitants of his art. The question becomes how much each of them are willing to relinquish some of that control in order to find happiness. What follows is a twisted psychological thriller in which appearances are deceiving, impressions are misleading, and the truth is not what you expect it to be. One could even argue that there are no victims here but rather choices made that have unintended, but sometimes tragic, consequences.

Psychological dramas, and those stories that allow us to get glimpses into the mind of the mentally ill/unstable are always fascinating to me, making The Girl Before a great book in my mind. What makes it even better is how Delaney plays with certain archetypes to cause confusion and to play upon readers’ expectations. He presents to us what we expect to see, just like Emma and Jane only see what they expect to see. The reality, when it finally comes to light, will send shivers down your spine at just how wrong you were even as it exposes the danger of only looking to confirm your expectations. The Girl Before may be a cautionary tale but it is also one that keeps you guessing until the very end and leaves you stunned with its conclusion. In other words, it is the best type of thriller.

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