The Girl Before is an entertaining, yet predictable psychological thriller involving the fates of two women who move into an elaborately designed home, owned by an eccentric owner who enforces over two hundred rules. The list of rules includes no books, no pets, no children, no personal effects, and no throw pillows among many others. I would never move into a house that didn’t allow books, pets, or children. However, two women choose to live there, three years apart, one dies (not a secret), and the other becomes obsessed with the previous renter’s death.
I wouldn’t compare this to The Girl on the Train, The Silent Wife, or Gone Girl, mainly because this lacks the suspense of those books. When I read psychological thrillers, I expect it to be highly suspenseful. I expect the novel to make me feel anxiety and anticipation from start to finish. After all, that’s the definition of suspense. When you’re comparing a novel to those, you have big shoes to fill, and anything less feels like a disappointment.
The only similarities between these novels are the overall tone and the twist, but in The Girl Before, it’s a predictable twist. Maybe it’s predictable to me because I’ve read enough psychological thrillers to pick up the formula. I knew who was guilty and I thought it was obvious. These types of novels always have at least one character that has an extreme personality, usually in the form of a mental illness, and it’s obvious that (view spoiler)[this character is meant to misdirect the reader (hide spoiler)]. When you make it obvious, the effect is lost and it takes away from the mystery. Also, (view spoiler)[there is always another character who is excessively involved in the investigation. And, we know why. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what’s going on there (hide spoiler)].
There were some pacing issues, but it improved towards the end. The first half of the book dragged, as if the story was still setting up, so I kept waiting to feel the suspense. I was starting to question the psychological thriller categorization. By midpoint, the novel finally gained momentum and that’s when the story officially captivated me. Once you get through the first half, the novel becomes more engrossing and you’ll want to see it to the end. It’s getting to that point that’s challenging.
This novel alternates points of view between Emma and Jane, which was interesting because you’re alternating between the past and the present and at the end, everything comes together. Sometimes their stories were so similar that it has a Groundhog’s Day effect, mainly in their relationship with Edward Monkford. He’s the architect and property owner. Edward’s character is the most developed, followed by Simon and then the two girls. Edward is one of those characters who is a creepy, disgusting, jerk. Emma is almost as unlikeable as Edward, but for different reasons. Simon is the sensitive, needy type. Jane likes to play amateur detective.
The first person narration of Emma and Jane lacked distinction at times. It was as if they had similar narrative voices, so a couple of times, I forgot who was speaking. You really get a better sense of the characters towards the end and that’s when their personalities really shine. I enjoyed Jane’s story ending and that one part made me a little teary eyed. The author does break one of my personal rules when you’re writing about pets and this one involved a cat. (view spoiler)[When you’re writing about pets, never kill the pet. (hide spoiler)]
If this entire novel had the same intensity and development as the last half, this could have been a four-star novel. I loved the double meaning of the title. That was a nice touch. Even with these issues, I still think The Girl Before is entertaining and worth reading.
Note: If the spoiler tags don’t work, please click on the link “3 of 5 stars” and you can read the spoilers on my Goodreads review.