The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

I took a stack of books (both electronic and physical) with me to Adaminaby to read last week.  I was fortunate: most of the books I read (no, not the whole stack) held my attention (fiction), were informative (non-fiction) and interesting (both fiction and non-fiction).  Slowly, I write reviews.  And this is the first review.  This novel has been likened to ‘The Girl on the Train’, and if you enjoyed that book (I did) then you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

‘Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.’

This is the story of two women, connected by living in one place.  The focus moves between the lives and experiences of Emma Matthews (‘Then’) and Jane Cavendish (‘Now’) at One Folgate Street in London, UK.  One Folgate Street is a minimalist house designed by a reclusive architect, Edward Monkford.  Those who seek to live there need to fill in a lengthy application form, and will need to abide by some 200 conditions stipulated under a restrictive covenant if their application is approved.  Very few applicants are approved.

‘It’s an extraordinarily tight contract.’

Then: Emma Matthews likes One Folgate Place: she feels safe there.  After a burglary in her last place, she is looking for security.  Emma and her boyfriend Simon move in.

Now: Jane Cavendish is looking for a new home.  Somewhere to recover after the sudden death of her baby daughter just days before her birth.

The novel shifts between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, between Emma and Jane.  Clearly Emma and Simon are no longer living at One Folgate Street when Jane moves in.  But when Jane discovers that Emma died at One Folgate Street, she becomes curious about the girl who lived there before her.

‘It seems One Folgate Street has a somewhat tragic history, he says.’

So, what happened to Emma Matthews and her boyfriend Simon?  Why are the tenancy rules so inflexible for One Folgate Street?  Who is Edward Monkford, and why has he designed One Folgate Street in such a controlled, minimalist fashion?  You’ll need to read the book to try to find the answers to these questions

The more pages I turned, the more I became caught up in the story.  My own brief obsession (I read the novel over two days) was to find out what had happened to Emma.   While there are many disturbing similarities between Emma’s story and Jane’s, there are some significant differences.  And just when I thought I’d worked out what happened to Emma, another twist would have me looking in another direction.  It’s claustrophobic and obsessive, and I can understand why Universal has bought the film rights.

Did I enjoy this novel?  Yes, mostly.  I had envisaged a slightly different ending, but I’m not disappointed.  I’d like to know more about the author, though: J.P. Delaney is, apparently, a pseudonym for an author who has ‘previously written bestselling fiction under other names’.

Note: My thanks to Hachette Australia and NetGalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith