Date Read : February 2017
The Girl Before is told from the perspectives of Jane and Emma – two women who have experienced tragedy in their lives. This tragedy leads both women to one place at different times: One Folgate Street. A venture in architecture/modern technology, it is an unusual house with unusual rules.
Emma and her boyfriend move to Folgate Street after Emma is attacked in a home invasion – she needs a house that makes her feel secure and afresh, but it doesn’t take long for things to begin to unravel, eventually leading to Emma’s death.
Jane moves into Folgate street following her own personal tragedy, and is soon fascinated with finding out what really happened to her predecessor, Emma – delving into a tangled web of lust, deceit and betrayal.
During their time in One Folgate Street, both Emma and Jane become involved with the house’s eccentric and controlling architect, adding another layer to the mystery.
The novel is littered with revelations. There were genuinely surprising twists, mostly relating to Emma (who is the real star of the show), but the ease with which twists came about felt uneasy in the long-run – as though the author felt no commitment to the pages that came before and could just turn the narrative on its head at any given moment for shock value, rather than narrative development.
On top of that, the effect of these revelations are dampened by the fact that Emma herself was wholly unlikeable. There is nothing wrong with unlikeable characters – they can be integral characters in developing a great narrative. However, irritable characters are another matter, especially when they are the focal point of your book-verse.
Emma has no backbone – she goes where the wind takes her, but not in an endearing free-spirited way, rather, she has no self-direction or identity and is purely reactive. Despite the eventual revelation that she is in fact *spoiler alert* a narcissistic pathological liar, this is purely a default response to situations she perceives as thrust upon her. She therefore lacks self-awareness and is one-dimensional. A shame, as a character with such attributes could be developed in many interesting ways.
Jane is more likeable – she confronts and challenges the situations around her. She is honest and consciously assesses her actions and relationships. But as her role is largely as a narrative vehicle for our girl Emma, she is ultimately doomed to be plain Jane.
There are numerous characters that are each presented with mystery and complexity – such as Folgate Street’s architect Edward Monkton, but they all ultimately fall short and prove to be nothing more substantial than overly-intricate means for sustaining suspense.
I’ve given the rating of two and a half stars as I can’t deny that I felt compelled to keep reading (listening). However, the need to enhance suspense really detracted from narrative value, and the characters are poorly written. Unfortunately, I’d have to say that I would be unlikely to read another novel by J.P. Delaney based on this experience.