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Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

Right off the bat, I have to say that while the mystery/thriller genre isn’t necessarily one of my top favorite genres, I thoroughly enjoyed J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before. At the same time, I can’t necessarily say that I think that this is a truly great book, especially the more I think about this book after having finished reading it about three weeks ago.

Prior to reading The Girl Before, I was very drawn to the premise of the book centering around two women living in the same house at two different points in time. (Emma, along with her boyfriend, Simon, were the previous tenants; and Jane moves into the house at the start of the book) The whole idea of the characters being able to live in a house, that while the house is very luxurious, there are a lot of really weird rules that the people living the house are expected to follow was also very interesting to me. Plus, Edward Monkford (The man who designed the house and owns it) has a rather elaborate screening process that involves having to answer a lot of rather odd questions that are featured at the beginning of each chapter throughout the book. The fact that the mystery that the book is ultimately centered around is, “What exactly happened to Emma?” is something that I quickly became very invested in once I started reading The Girl Before.

The Girl Before is definitely a book that has a lot of twists and turns that I really enjoyed for the most part. One thing that I found myself thinking about a lot when I read and reviewed Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty is that the main characters in both of those books definitely weren’t exactly the most likable people, but that’s especially the case when it comes to the characters in The Girl on the Train. Initially, I thought that both Emma and Jane were both fairly likable for the most part, and I thought that they were also both very sympathetic characters, especially given the fact that they had both suffered a tragedy of some kind prior to moving into the house on One Folgate Street. (Emma was the sexually assaulted during a home invasion, and Jane had a baby that was stillborn.) When I first started reading The Girl Before, I really liked that Emma and Jane initially seemed like very likable people, since I feel like the characters in the other mystery/thriller novels that I’ve read in the past have all had the tendency to ultimately not be the most sympathetic and likable characters. However, as the overall plot of The Girl Before progressed, it became more and more clear to me that perhaps Emma and Jane weren’t as likable and innocent as I had initially thought that they were.

While I was definitely a little disappointed that Emma and Jane ultimately weren’t as likable and innocent as I originally thought that they were once I finished reading The Girl Before; I do kind of like the fact that all of the twists and turns throughout the book ultimately left me with an opinion of Edward Monkford that was very different from my first impression of the character that I had at the beginning of the book. Originally, I was really expecting him to basically serve as the villain of the book, but Edward definitely ended up having a little bit more depth to him than I had originally been expecting him to have. At the risk of giving too much away, he was in some ways the character that I had the most sympathy for by the end of the book, and after all of the book’s twists had been revealed.

For the most part, I feel like the plot moved at a very good pace, and I love how each chapter of the book began with one of the questions that’s on the questionnaire that potential tenants of the house have to fill out. I thought that the mystery of what exactly happened to Emma, and why she doesn’t live at One Folgate Street anymore was pretty interesting, and it held my attention throughout the entire book. That being said, the constant flipping back and forth between Emma and Jane’s points of view did make it rather challenging to not get the two characters confused at times. A part of me feels like the book could have benefited from Delaney having two to four chapters in a row that would all be written from the same character’s point of view, rather than going back and forth between Emma and Jane’s points of view each chapter.

One thing that I ultimately really wish that Delaney had explored at least a little bit is what did people who didn’t live in the house on One Folgate Street think about the house itself, Edward Monkford’s bizarre screening process for potential tenants of the house, the rules that the house’s tenants were expected to follow, and the tragic history of its previous tenants; especially at the end of the book. A big part of me feels like just Edward’s screening process for the house’s potential tenants, and the rules that the people living in the house have to follow alone would scare a lot of people away from wanting to even consider living in the house at One Folgate Street. That’s something that I found myself wondering about for a large portion of the book. I’ll give Delaney credit for having Emma and Jane’s realtors acknowledge that the conditions for living in the house were odd, and I got the impression that both realtors had been having hard time finding people who were genuinely interested in actually living in the house. At the same time, their comments to Emma and Jane about the house don’t really give the reader very much insight at all about what the general public’s view of the house is; which I thought was rather disappointing.

All things considered, The Girl Before is definitely a very interesting and compelling mystery/thriller that I really enjoyed. Delaney did a great job of writing this book in such a way that the overall mystery of book wasn’t immediately obvious, and yet the book’s mystery held my attention from beginning to end. While I definitely appreciate the fact that The Girl Before features a lot of really interesting twists and turns throughout the book that were genuinely surprising, I think it’s a little disappointing that some of those twists ultimately made The Girl Before yet another mystery/thriller that features women who are at least somewhat unlikable and unsympathetic characters. That being said, Emma and Jane ultimately aren’t altogether unlikable characters, which is definitely a good thing. I also love the character development for Edward Monkford, as well as his backstory. While the transitions back and forth between Emma and Jane’s storylines definitely could have been handled a little bit better at times, I’d still say that Delaney handled the concept of writing a book that follows two different storylines that happen at different points in time pretty well for the most part. Despite the fact that there are a few things that I found disappointing about The Girl Before, I still really enjoyed the book, and I’m definitely interested in reading more of J.P. Delaney’s books in the future.

That being said, my final score for The Girl Before is 8 out of 10.

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