January 23, 2017

Book Review: The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

Source: Vine

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

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.

I was intrigued by the premise but wary of the seemingly hyperbolic and now ubiquitous comparison to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. But having been immediately hooked by the first few pages and feeling compelled to hide from life to finish this book - I would have to say that indeed if you enjoyed the above-mentioned books, you will certainly enjoy this one. What do they have in common besides "girl" in the title? The Girl Before is a domestic thriller with two alternating viewpoints, one, or both, of which might be unreliable.

Both Emma and Jane come to live, at different times, at One Folgate Street, a unique, technologically advanced residence with a very demanding and eccentric architect/owner. Applicants have to answer a battery of personal and provocative questions and have to be subject to hundreds of conditions if they are chosen. Conditions as draconian as not having any books, plants or pictures. The mysterious architect demands a minimalist life in exchange for living in his minimalist flat.

Both women are coming out of traumatic events in their recent past when they are accepted to live at One Folgate and as the weeks and months pass, the reader comes to recognize other eerie and haunting similarities between them. Both are headed towards a dangerous fate connected with the increasingly sinister architect who intimately enters both of their lives. Sprinkled throughout the books are questions from the rental application which seems to delve into the personality of the applicant, such as: "You are involved in a traffic accident that you know is your fault. The other driver is confused and seems to think she caused the crash. Do you tell the police it was her fault or yours?" The house, which uses the answers to these questions, as well as data collected from its monitoring of the residents, creates a tailored experience for each. Thus One Folgate itself becomes an omnipresent character and leaves the reader pondering the Faustian bargain of technological advances at the expense of privacy.

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