The Girl Before is a fascinating story told in a parallel past-and-present narrative. Emma, in the past, struggles to come to terms with a home invasion and assault leaving her feeling unsafe in her home, her life, and her relationship. Jane, a high powered UN official, struggles to come to terms with the stillbirth of her daughter. (As an aside, this narrative is sensitive and honest about the death of an unborn child and the process of delivering a baby who will never cry. Well done.) Having left her old job and most of her old friends, she begins volunteering at a support organization for other women with babies born still. Between her reduced income and a home still expectant of a baby girl, Jane is looking for a fresh start in a new place.
One Folgate Street is a gorgeous home with an ascetic look and state-of-the-art technology. It is available at a greatly reduced price, if the tenant agrees to a set of rules and interactive sets of questions and monitoring that allows the architect to perfect the home of the future. Edward, the architect, is a beautiful man with a devastating past who hand picks each tenant. Not long after Jane moves in, she begins a sexual relationship with Edward and finds herself approaching comfort and happiness in her new surroundings. Soon Jane begins to suspect there is more to this house’s history and its architect as she discovers the strange circumstances of the deaths of his wife, child, and the previous tenant, Emma.
The book unfolds quickly and crisply. The prose itself is reflective of the space, starting cleanly and gradually becoming more menacing as the narrative closes in to the end. Emma and Jane’s parallel stories converge rapidly as Jane seeks to understand who Emma really was, how she died, and what that means for her own health and safety inside One Folgate Street with Edward. An excellent read.
After I wrote my review, I read other’s reviews and wanted to address issues that repeatedly arise in them but there are spoilers beyond this point.
First, the discussions of parallels between The Girl Before and 50 Shades of Grey are a stretch, at best. Some passages of this book may be difficult to read for anyone who is prone to flashbacks after surviving some type of assault. However, I don’t believe the book was anything like a poor 50 Shades knock off. For one, this book has an expertly crafted plot. The sex is neither superfluous, as it turns out, nor gratuitous. It’s also more about Emma being manipulative than this guy seeking someone out and getting them to do things because he likes it.
Second, many people likened it to other books with Girl in the title. This book is not ‘full of unlikable characters.’ In fact, I liked Edward, Jane, and Simon very much, although I was always reticent to accept Emma for some difficult-to-place reason. The way I felt about Simon was an early indicator, for me, to elevate him in my mind as a likely suspect in Emma’s death. One review suggested All The Missing Girls as a more appropriate parallel, and I agree. I very much liked Nic as a character and, despite her involvement in the plot, felt that I really understood why she was involved and didn’t like her any less for it. The use of the word “Girl” in the title is actually very unlike the books that came before, since it actually represents something else entirely. Or, perhaps more truthfully, also represents something else entirely..