Highly entertaining and creepy. 3.5/5 stars.
Thank you to Quercus Books and NetGalley for the e-ARC.
The blurb: “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.
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.
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.
This book will do very well. The premise is great, if rather batty (who would honestly agree to live in a house with so many restrictive rules. You’re not allowed books! Come on!). The story is entertaining with an impressive number of twists to keep you guessing. When it comes to uncovering who was responsible for Emma’s death, there are enough plausible suspects to keep you intrigued.
On the whole it’s easy to read, although the dialogue in Emma’s chapters isn’t marked off by inverted commas, which can slow the pace down as you try to separate speech from thought.
And, if you like creepy, this book delivers it in spades. As the story alternates between “Emma chapters” in the past and “Jane chapters” in the present, the parallels between the women’s experiences are gradually revealed and the similarities at times, particularly in their relationships with Edward, made me shudder.
However, I have issues with the sexual politics of a story in which the two main characters are largely ok with having a narcissist trying to control them. I can’t really say more than that because it could be giving away some major plot points (sorry!).
I also felt things started to go haywire in the last quarter of the book as the twisting and turning went too far, pushing the plot from far-fetched to ridiculous. So while I wasn’t bored for a single second while reading The Girl Before, I have to confess to a fair bit of tutting and eye-rolling.
Overall: fans of creepy psychological thrillers will love The Girl Before. I’m sure it will be very successful and I look forward to seeing how closely the upcoming film adaptation sticks to the book.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul