The Girl Before by J P Delaney
When this psychological thriller came out in 2017, it soon became a bestseller – with good reason – it’s one of the best of its kind that I’ve read in a long while. Who is J P Delaney though? The blurb just says the name is a pseudonym for a previously published author, no other hints.
Well, I met JP last week and still didn’t get to find out his real name, until I got home and looked him up. I discovered that he has also written as Anthony Capella whom I have read – I really enjoyed his romantic food-rich dramas The Wedding Officer and The Food of Love, both read pre-blog. He has other pseudonyms too, and as for his real name – it’s out there, but it’s no matter, I can understand why authors choose to use different pseudonyms for writing in different genres.
Which brings me to The Girl Before,it’s prefaced with a question…
1. Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.
In the following opening chapters, we meet Emma – then, and Jane – now. Both need to find a new home to rent, both are limited in what they can afford. Both are offered a look at One Folgate Street. An architect designed box, inside of which is a minimalist heaven, Marie Kondo could live happily there. The rent is affordable, but any potential tenant must complete a lengthy questionnaire and be interviewed by the architect before being selected to live there. The successful tenant must live by the architect’s austere rules and agree to the house recording their activity (for research purposes).
Neither woman is in a position to turn this opportunity down. Both have their reasons for hoping that the house’s ultra tranquil atmosphere will be conducive to their mindfulness. Emma was recently recovering from the trauma of a break-in at the flat she shares with her boyfriend Simon. Jane researches the architect, the enigmatic Edward Monkford, discovering the house had originally been conceived as his own family home, but his wife and son were killed during an accident during the building of the house.
I read the words again. So the house started with a death. Two deaths, in fact: a double bereavement. Is that why I felt so at home there? Is there some kind of affinity between those austere spaces and my own sense of loss?
Automatically, I glance at the suitcase by the window. A suitcase full of baby clothes.
My baby died. My baby died and then, three days later, she was born.
Emma and Simon, and later Jane are all accepted as tenants, and their lives at One Folgate Street begin. Their stories alternate all the way through, starting off in parallel, but as it progresses, we begin to notice striking differences between the two women once Emma chucks Simon, and starts a no ties relationship with Edward Monkford, as Jane will too. The two women will respond differently to Edward’s narcissistic control-freakery though, and once Jane discovers that Emma died in the house, the tension becomes almost unbearable as she is compelled to find out what happened.
I just couldn’t put the book down, reading all 400+ pages in one sitting! The plotting and characterisation are so cleverly done, twisting and turning us one way then another as we get to know Emma, Jane and Edward. There’s also that feeling that the house is taking part, of being watched; it’s that air of horror lurking in the brightness of the white interiors, the echoes of what happened “then” in the “now”.
The Girl Before is a truly superb psychological thriller. I’ve heard equally good things about Believe Me, and the advance word on his third novel, The Perfect Wife, which will be out in August, makes it a must read. JP Delaney is a pseudonym that is working fine! (10/10)
Source: Own copy. (Quercus, 2017), paperback 448 pages.