Although marketed as the new Gone Girl, Delaney’s novel, doesn’t quite live up to the standards of Flynn’s book. Possessing a fair number of chills and spills, Delaney writes a fairly rudimentary psycho-sexual thriller that climbs aboard the gravy train of thrillers coming out of the UK at the moment. In short, sharp chapters, The Girl Before is narrated by two characters: the past voice of Emma and the present voice of Jane.
Each has admirable aspirations and has suffered terrible personal trauma. In order to try and remake their lives, Emma and Jane have decided to move into the newly built One Folgate Street.
Constructed by one of Britain’s most influential architects, Edward Monkford, Folgate House
is situated in a salubrious area of North London, a post-modern homage to a new experiment in living. From its light-sensitive windows to its state-of-the-art security system, almost everything in the house is electronically controlled. Jane and Emma are amazed and overwhelmed by the house’s blank, stark, empty spaces. So is Emma’s new boyfriend, Simon, who against his better judgment
lets Emma sign the lease with its strange conditions and restrictive covenants. Regular inspections are built into the contract, and the architect himself has the right to veto any prospective tenant.
For Jane and Emma, providence and chance have finally coalesced. Emma admits that she hasn’t had a single flashback or panic attack since she first stepped into the house. Steadily cocooned from the outside world, Emma sees Folgate as a fresh start and a way to forget the terrible burglary that
has hijacked her existence. Emma hopes that One Folgate Street will make her a better person and perhaps bring order and discipline into the random chaos of her life.
Escaping from her tragedy, Jane also takes advantage of Folgate House’s dynamic minimalist environment. After learning that the house has suffered through two deaths, Jane feels as though she has
an affinity with Folgate’s austere spaces through the loss of her baby, who died three days after she was born. Even though Jane
has been reeling from the “casual inversion” of the proper order of things, she finds herself unexpectedly attracted to sexy, relaxed Edward, who wines and dines her with the promises to help her lead a more disciplined life.
Written for the Girl on The Train crowd, Delany’s novel is not quite as polished as Hawkins’ book.
It's a step up from Fifty Shades of Grey, with erotic passages not as titillating as one might expect from this type of story. As Emma and Jane’s attraction to Edward increases, Simon’s jealousy will lead these four characters into a sinister dance with death. Dressed to kill in a black designer dress, Emma--and then Jane--is seduced by the more urbane Edward. Even more startling is Edward’s purchase of an expensive pearl choker, which sets in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to murder: “I picture a young woman’s body lying at the bottom of those sleek stone stairs, blood spreading across the floor from a shattered skull.”
The twists and turns are intriguing: Jane’s surprise bouquet of lilies, left in exactly in the same place beside Folgate’s front door with a card written “Emma, I will love you forever,”
and the murderer’s solutions against discovery as he tries to manipulate Folgate’s electronic security system. Jane and Emma marvel at Edward’s sexual dexterity as he tries to beat anyone who presents an obstacle to the great myth that he spins around himself. Edward is portrayed as a “tormented genius” who lost the love of his life and as a result has become an “arch-minimalist.”
As Jane uncovers the motivation behind Emma’s more bizarre accusations towards Edward, there’s a sense that Jane
is catching up with Emma, “of being hot on her heels” and seeing all of her twists and changes of direction.
There’s plenty of shocks in the novel (Delaney attempts to elevate the tone with a subplot involving Down Syndrome), yet I found myself mostly cringing at his portrayal of women, so weak and pitiable in the face of assumed male domination. The dichotomy between absolute strength and utter weakness is so great as to render Emma, Jane, Simon, and Edward as mostly unbelievable caricatures. That said, the plot and pacing of the book kept me engaged enough that I wanted to finish, despite a final, underwhelming revelation regarding the identity of the killer.