The Girl Before by JP Delaney

“I’ll just read a chapter or two before I go to sleep” – every bookworm who’s ever missed their bedtime and woken up grumpy the next morning.

Also me, just before I started reading this book. And then finished it an hour or so later. And then woke up tired the next day.

Seriously, bookworms. Will we never learn? 

The Girl Before is told from two points of view: Jane has recently been through a miscarriage and is looking for a new house that doesn’t come with all the memories attached. She signs the lease on a place which was previously occupied by Emma, the other protagonist.

So far, so normal. But this isn’t your average tenancy. The house’s owner is also its architect, the enigmatic and eccentric Edward Monkton. Although he doesn’t live there, he insists his tenants follow various rules, and reserves the right to check up on them when he sees fit. The house is minimalist and stark, but also beautiful in its own way, and something about the requirement to get rid of most of their possessions and live inside this cavernous cave of cleanliness appeals to Emma and Jane in turn.

But soon after moving in, Jane discovers various similarities between herself and the previous tenant; not least how alike they are in appearance. More disturbingly, there is also an uncanny resemblance to Monkton’s late wife. She knew she was taking on a bit of an odd deal here, but has she bitten off more than she could chew?

Like I said, I finished this in one sitting because the writing style is so fast-paced. I didn’t have high hopes because I’d picked it up in a twofer at the supermarket, but it was really gripping. JP Delaney writes with an intensity that borders on the sexual; the pages feel like they’re turning themselves and just taking you along for the ride.

Probably my favourite thing about The Girl Before was how flawed the characters were. Not one of them is perfect, or even ‘good’ in the way you’d normally split a story into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. In that respect, much as the story was far-fetched at times, the book felt true to life. And throughout it I found myself empathising with each of the characters, even though they sometimes acted in unpalatable ways.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will thrill you with every page, I’d certainly recommend The Girl Before.


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