A damaged young woman gets the unique opportunity to rent a one-of-a-kind house. When she falls in love with the sexy, enigmatic architect who designed it, she has no idea she is following in the footsteps of the girl who came before: the house’s former tenant.
The eerie parallels in the two girls’ lives lay bare an enthralling story…and make this novel the must-read thriller of the season.
The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Publication Date: January 24, 2017 by Ballantine Books
All these men who loved Emma, I think. For all her problems, men were fixated on her. Will anyone ever feel like that about me?
I’VE BEEN TRICKED. The premise of this book sounded both intriguing and original and with all the strong reviews backing it up, I started reading with the expectation of a psychological thriller. What I ended up with was a murder mystery wrapped up in Fifty Shades of Grey.
I’ll start by saying that rather than throwing my kindle across the room midway through the novel, I felt hopeful enough to finish it – so there are definitely aspects of the book that work. The idea of people willing to agree to a neurotically detailed contract in order to live in a gorgeous house with an insanely cheap rent was enough to warrant attention. J.P. Delaney is definitely talented at maintaining a constant, underlying tension throughout the story. I also liked the interchanging chapters between the past and the present – Emma (the prior tenant) and Jane (the current tenant). The back and forth did not feel choppy at all and it helped to maintain the pace of the plot.
What ruined the book for me was the characterization. While perhaps the reader is expected to believe much of the behavior we see is because both Emma and Jane have experienced a personal trauma and are vulnerable when they agree to move into the house, the whole submissive act starts to become validated by the big bad alpha, Edward – the millionaire architect responsible for the home they reside in – and that’s where the book lost me.
The phone goes silent. And immediately I feel better, much better, because what I want more than anything else right now is for someone strong and decisive, someone like Edward, to come and pick up my life and rearrange all the pieces for me and somehow make everything work.
While it seems that the author intends to make Emma and Jane two separate characters with their own individual characteristics, they both come off as vapid and weak – not women suffering to fight back against devastating events in their life, but women who lack a personality and who seem to only gain a sense of security from being with a man who treats them like property. Perhaps this would have worked as part of the plot if their sex lives with Edward didn’t play such a massive role in the book, but more and more I felt like this deviation from what I had hoped was the true storyline was something to sell to the masses – because apparently damsels in distress with daddy issues who like violent sex is what the public buys.
When I haven’t heard from Edward in two weeks, I send him a selfie. I got a tattoo, Daddy. Do you like it? The reaction is instant. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? I know I should have asked your permission first. But I wanted to see what would happen if I was really, really bad… in truth, the tattoo is small, quite pretty, and invisible when wearing normal clothes – a stylized representation of a seagull’s wings, just above the swell of the right buttock. But I know how much Edward loathes them. PS it’s quite sore. The reply comes a few minutes later. And going to get sorer. Tonight. I’m coming back to London. Angry. It’s the longest text he’s ever sent me.
The ending of the novel definitely raises a lot of questions – particularly whether the stereotyped characters were all a part of the plan. The book is filled with women who put up with horrible behavior from the men in their lives and men who act like downright predators. If there was a message about gender roles and our society, I clearly missed it and that is what ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied with The Girl Before – vapid women and controlling men for no reason other than pure entertainment is not the type of novel I enjoy reading. For those who enjoyed Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps this is the type of thriller for you, but for those looking for a little less sexism and a lot more depth, I’d suggest skipping this one.
Thank you Netgalley and Ballantine Books for allowing me the chance to read this book in return for an honest review.