I was lucky enough to attend the Hachette Australia roadshow last year – and even luckier to receive three great proof copies of upcoming releases! I’ve already reviewed one that I received (and that has now been published!), of Piers Torday’s There May be a Castle, which you can read here!
This review will be of a forthcoming thriller that’s already generating a lot of buzz – and after having read/devoured it, I can definitely see why. The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney fits into a lot of categories that have it as a pre-made sensation. It even bears title similarities to blockbusters The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), Gone Girl (2012) and The Girl on the Train (2015). And it certainly will be recommended on the backs of those books, as a domestic noir, psychological thriller that packs a huge punch through delicate interweaving of character, setting and a high level of suspense that makes the pages turn.
Although the proof covers are often drastically different from what the book looks like when it is released to the public (and this one is no exception), I found that the proof cover was a fantastic representation of just what the book has to offer to the readers. Which sounds strange given that it is basically just a simple block red cover all the way around with the title of the book just barely visible as the only writing on the whole cover.
The main point of interest that sets this book apart from anything that I’ve ever read before is its use of architecture as the launching point for the intrigue of the book. The book centres around two women, both of whom are recovering from traumatic events that have recently happened to them, who are deeply moved by what the potential of one home has to change their lives and circumstances: One Folgate Street. A masterpiece of minimalist architecture, with beautifully written lines, ceilings and fitted with the most modern technologies that make this a futuristic “smart home”. Although the two women, the girl before, Emma, and the present, Jane, narrate the novel, the main character of this book is One Folgate Street. It dominates the people and their lives inside of it in a way that twists and turns the plot of the novel.
It is not just the minimalism of the architecture of One Folgate Street that makes it such a dominating presence in the book, but the demands that follow this style of living. The landlord of the house, Edward Monkton, requires any potential tenants to fill in an extensive form of pages and pages of questions before they can move in. But he also has a very strict list of how these tenants have to live in the house – for example, there can be no books, throw pillows, photos or clutter of any kind. The house is intended to change the entire lifestyle of the person that lives in it. Hence, the first question of the questionnaire for prospective tenants: “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.”
But things get really interesting when the tragic and chilling history of One Folgate Street is revealed to the woman of the present, Jane. She finds that the woman who inhabited the house before her met an untimely death in the house, as well as Edward Monkton’s wife and child being killed on site during the construction of the house. Jane begins to wonder if the man who built the house, as well the man to whom she has found herself immensely attracted, is a sinister link between these deaths. Throughout the course of the book, she finds herself entangled in the world of the woman before, as their lives draw frightening parallels.
The Girl Before was a fundamentally readable book, with page-turning twists around every corner. The short, sharp chapters in the voices of the different women are compelling, especially when they are read side by side. It becomes increasingly unsettling as the story goes on, as the lives of Emma and Jane become entangled through the devices of Edward Monkton and his unique creation. Yet another amazing read from an on-trend genre!