The Girl Before, by J P Delaney

History repeats, making for an edgy and mysterious domestic thriller.

The Girl Before, by J P Delaney, read by Emilia Fox, Finty Williams and Lise Aagaard KnudsenSet ‘then’ and ‘now’, J P Delaney mirrors the life of two women who take up residence at the same address. Jane is the ‘now’, coming to terms with her still born baby. She’s attracted to the minimalist design of No. 1 Folgate Street, Hendon, and the sanctuary it may provide. It is a technological and architectural masterpiece designed by celebrated architect, Edward Monkford.

To take up residence, there are a series of questionnaires and tests, beginning with the request: Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life. For the few who pass the tests, there are house rules that must never be broken.

Before Jane, was Emma, a victim of a home invasion who moved into Folgate Street with her boyfriend Simon, attracted by the security of the house.

As the two women’s lives run parallel, Jane becomes increasingly aware of Emma’s legacy and begins investigating her death in the house. As she delves deeper, against the express wishes of her domineering lover, the mystery thickens not only about how Emma died, but of the house itself, and its history of death and deception.

The Girl Before is very rightly compared in some ways to E L James’ erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The relationships that both Emma and Jane form with their landlord are controlling and manipulative with Emma, in particular, relishing her master’s voice. That’s not to say this novel is erotica, but comparisons will always be made against popular literature.

Narrators Emilia Fox, Finty Williams and Lise Aagaard Knudsen provide the voice of the two central women, interspersed with a quiz of ethical questions that separate some of the chapters. It’s difficult to distinguish the voices of Emma and Jane at times, but this works in the audiobook’s favour, strengthening their connection as look-alike women. Despite similar voices, their characters are distinct, and each of the main readers draw the listener into their dysfunctional world.

Without a suspension of disbelief, it may be a challenge to relate to the central characters, particularly with the narrators being so nuanced in their representation of what amounts to two women struggling to let go of their past. The writing however, is precise and gripping, drawing the listener into their worlds. With so few players, it’s not difficult to work out whodunnit and what the story’s climax will entail, but the anticipation of it makes the story worth the wait. There’s some nice, unexpected twists along the way.

The Girl Before has been listed as a Sunday Times best-seller, New York Times best-seller and the Radio 2 Book Club Choice for February 2017. It’s no surprise given how enjoyable J P Delaney’s writing is.

The audiobook of The Girl Before was released in January 2017 and runs for approximately 10 hours and 5 minutes. It is available through audible.

This review was first published on 28 March 2017 for Glam Adelaide.

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