Review: The Girl Before by J P Delaney

The Girl Before by J P Delaney book cover

The Girl Before (Hachette Aus., Jan. 2017) is a sinister, atmospheric thriller that keeps readers guessing. 

Genre: Domestic thriller

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.

Hats off to the publicists, it seems like EVERYONE is talking about this book! I’ve lost count of the number of reviews I’ve seen in the past couple of months (Annie over at The Misstery penned a particularly good one). And here I am, adding my two cents.

I was intrigued by the premise of The Girl Before. I loved the idea of people living in this strange techno-house that functions as a behaviour change mechanism. It’s so deliciously sinister. But I was more than a little turned off by the ‘for fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train‘ pitch. Ugh, I’m so sick of publicists likening every single goddamn domestic thriller to those two books. I get it, they target the same readership and made a squillion dollars, BUT they’re not even that good. In fact, I thought they were both kinda lame and I don’t want to waste my time on another book that’s even remotely similar. Besides, if publishers absolutely must compare new titles to older, popular ones, there are plenty of other bestselling domestic thrillers out there: mix it up!

The Girl Before compared to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl
Dear Publishers, please stop.

Deep breath. Rant over. Sorry, it’s just that this was like the third book I read in a month that’s supposedly the next Gone Girl on the Train. Bleeeerrrrrg.

Back to the book itself. The Girl Before is a compelling read—I devoured it in a single sitting (it normally takes me the better part of a week to get through a book). Delaney is a master of suspense and atmosphere and for the first half I was utterly intrigued and couldn’t even begin to guess where this tricky little thriller was headed.

The house almost becomes a character in and of itself, isolating the characters and restricting their movements. And the panoptic sense of surveillance is dead creepy. While the story doesn’t contain any supernatural elements, it has the feel of a good haunted house story.

However, I found the narrative lost some of its focus and atmosphere in the second half. There were a few instances where Delaney gives the plot a bit of a twist, which worked well. But these mini-twists raised a lot of questions that Delaney ignores. For example,  the reader learns that a significant character has lied about key events throughout the book, but it’s not really clear how far these lies extend or how they alter what the reader already knows. Similarly, towards the end of the book, one of the characters announces that, due to a chance in circumstance, they no longer care about certain other characters, and the reader is seemingly expected to stop caring too. However, at least one of these characters is someone the reader has followed closely throughout the book, and it was extremely frustrating to be told that they were no longer relevant, especially when I still had so many questions about their motivations.

I also found the ending somewhat odd. It’s foreshadowed well, but even still, it completely shifted the focus of the story and made much of the plot feel redundant. I was left with a sense of, why did I have to read all that when the story is really about this? Having read the acknowledgements after finishing the book, I can understand why Delaney took the story in the direction that she did—the ending clearly has great personal significance for her. However, I felt the ending and the main character it concerned belonged in a very different story, and not necessarily a story that I was in the right frame of mind to read at the time. It left me feeling that I’d been lured in under false pretences.

Three stars

See The Girl Before on Goodreads and purchase through AmazonBooktopia or Book Depository.

Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of The Girl Before in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks to Grammarly for picking up five critical issues and twelve advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!

—Margot XO 

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