The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Psychological Thriller: ‘The Girl Before’ by JP Delaney (ARC Book Review)

on January 30, 2017

thegirlbefore

The Girl Before. JP Delaney. Quercus Books. Release date: 2nd February 2017.

Jane stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to live in a beautiful ultra-minimalist house designed by an enigmatic architect, on condition she abides by a long list of exacting rules. After moving in, she discovers that a previous tenant, Emma, met a mysterious death there – and starts to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of the girl before. As twist after twist catches the reader off guard, Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined in this tense, page-turning portrayal of psychological obsession.


Thank you to Netgalley and Quercus Books for sending me a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I first read the description of this psychological thriller, I knew I had to request it. The concept was such an intriguing one, and I was really excited when I was approved to receive a digital ARC.

Overall, this was a solid, entertaining thriller. I liked the fact that the story was based around a weird house (with an even weirder tenancy agreement), because things which are off-kilter from the ordinary are my favourite. Generally, creepy houses in fiction are of the old, haunted variety, so I was delighted by how sinister I found One Folgate Street, a sparsely decorated, modern creation, full of intuitive technology which allows the house, and the Monkford Partnership who own the house, to know just a little bit too much about its tenants.

I don’t know much about minimalism, so it was really interesting to read from the perspective of two characters (Jane and Emma) who agree to adopt a more minimalistic lifestyle when they move into One Folgate Street. I was intrigued by the tenancy agreement which, despite its peculiarities, both women agree to sign. There were so many strange rules in the agreement, compiled by the architect of the house, mostly regarding things they weren’t allowed to bring with them (for example, “NO BOOKS” is one of the rules… what even?!) Both women, for personal reasons, are attracted to the idea of completely changing the way the live, and whilst it was something I could personally never do, the psychology driving their decisions to take these strict rules on board was fascinating.

Even more fascinating than the house was the architect himself, Edward Monkford. Edward was one hell of a strange and complex character. He becomes involved with both women, Emma initially, (before her mysterious death at the property), and later Jane, who rents the house in the present day. And, to put it mildly, there’s something pretty creepy about him, and the way he inserts himself so quickly and efficiently into their lives.

Edward was a smooth operator, but beneath his calm and suave exterior, you could see his restrained anger when things didn’t go his way, and his urgent need for control, pulsing, desperate to burst out of him. At times, he reminded me a little of Christian Grey (as in 50 Shades of…); he was a rich, manipulative control-freak, was into luxury minimalist decor, treated his relationships like ‘agreements’, and had a pathological need to be dominant in all situations. Perhaps the most creepy thing about Edward was the way in which his relationship with Jane played out almost identically to his ‘romance’ with Emma. The robotic way he pursued Jane using all the same lines he used on Emma made me hella suspicious of him.

Emma and Jane were both interesting characters, and the more I read about them, the more layers I uncovered. Emma was a selfish, impulsive character, who jumped into things without thinking them through at all. Jane was more likeable, and I empathised with her more readily, but I also found her actions frustrating at times. I couldn’t understand how she could become involved with a man like Edward, when people kept warning her against him. Every time another character stated their opinion of Edward, Jane would be in complete denial, insisting ‘they’ve got him all wrong’, when actually their description of him had been uncanny. Still, Edward was a very charming and manipulative man, so to a certain extent, I could see where her denial was coming from.

One thing I found a little bit confusing in this book was the way Emma’s chapters were written. There were no speech marks, and at first I thought this might be an oversight, as this was an ARC copy, but it continued throughout the book, and was only in Emma’s chapters, which led me to think that it had been done deliberately, to distinguish her chapters from Jane’s. I found her sections a bit hard to follow, at times, because it wasn’t always clear who was speaking, and it wasn’t always obvious if I was reading narration or dialogue.

Something else that bothered me was how much I had to suspend disbelief. I found that certain characters, namely Emma’s therapist, and the DI who had been investigating her death, gave away confidential information about Emma and the case way too easily to Jane (someone who had nothing to do with Emma whatsoever, at the end of the day.) Nevertheless, I have to admit it made the story more exciting, and it couldn’t have progressed in the way it did if it weren’t for these ‘professionals’ and their good old lack of professionalism!

I enjoyed the ending of this book, but I wasn’t bowled over by it, and I think I enjoyed the journey more than the destination. I didn’t guess the twist until just before it was revealed, but somehow it didn’t greatly surprise me either; it just made sense, so my reaction was “ohhh, I see” rather than “wow”. Despite this, the story was intriguing throughout, kept me entertained, and certainly made an interesting character study! I also found the scene where the twist was revealed very tense, and dramatic, and although I wasn’t surprised by said reveal, I was terrified for the character involved.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, despite some minor quibbles, and I didn’t hesitate to give it four stars, largely owing to the fact that it contained one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a long time! I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for an entertaining thriller, with complex characters, and an awesome, unique concept!

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