When I was young I lived in London. All over London. Moving, as young renters do, approximately every twelve or eighteen months. What initially seemed like a fun way to live soon became a drag as flatmates moved in with boyfriends or went travelling. As I read JP Delaney’s novel, The Girl Before, I was pulled back to that period of time, wondering exactly what sacrifices I would have made for the perfect, affordable, home?
There’s an old adage, namely “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” and never more so than in this book. One Folgate Street is an architecturally inspired, futuristic creation, that demands its residents to live in a fiercely minimalist environment. To move in, each tenant must first answer the most intrusive of questionnaires to determine whether or not they have a temperament suited to the property. In the unlikely event of successfully passing that test, the resident must then divest themselves of most of their worldly possessions, leaving only the bare minimum allowed to reside in the house. The payoff is that the tenant then lives somewhere beautiful for a greatly reduced rent. Now imagine that scenario, the idea of living in complete serenity and calm, only to discover that the previous tenant died under mysterious circumstances in the house and that flowers are being left in her memory by a mysterious stranger. Would you care enough to investigate? Jane does and in so doing finds out about Emma.
Switching between the two narratives of past tenant, Emma and present tenant, Jane the author creates a fantastic, nail biting read. Jane has suffered an immense personal tragedy prior to moving in and each step of the way you are rooting for her not to make the same mistakes that Emma did. Through a variety of twists and turns the truth is slowly uncovered, but along the way a striking number or parallels between the two women are discovered that leave you, as reader feeling very unsettled.
This book is definitely a quick read, you can’t put it down for fear that Jane is heading nowhere fast, but it’s fun even if ever so slightly disturbing. M