The Girl Before by JP Delaney

31300946

Where to get it: All good bookstores

When can I get my hands on it: Out now!

What can I expect: stereotypes, yin and yang type characters (two sides of the same coin type of deal), dead babies, demanding men, minimalism, contradiction, a generally poor book.

Just another thriller to add to the growing pile of subpar genre fiction. All the publishers seem focussed at the moment on finding the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.

This is being sold in most places as a powerful new female driven thriller, or to use a buzzword, “domestic suspense” The writer “feels gratified” at how people think HE is a woman because he wrote two women so well. Yes, JP Delaney is male, and no I don’t hold that against him. What I do hold against him is the fact that I wouldn’t consider writing two women who portray all the stereotypical aspects of the Hysterical Woman to be writing women well.

Emma
-Manipulative
-Unappreciative
-Sex crazed
-Proned to fetishism
-Compulsive liar

Jane
-Grieving the loss of a baby
-Desperately wants another baby
-Focussed on her career and miss out on family and love
-Calculating
-Secretive

Emma and Jane
-Both develop an almost instant obsession with Monkford
-Both seem to have sexual awakenings because of Monkford and discover they lean toward fetishism
-Both spurn the same man (Simon, and to a much lesser extent, Saul) to be with Monkford
-Both give up huge amounts of personal connections in order to be with Monkford and live in Fulgate Street
-Both are suspicious and deceitful

I really felt, as I continued to read these two women that they are each one side of a coin, making one whole woman, who, if she lacked Emma’s compulsive lying and Jane’s need for a baby, might just be the perfect woman. But you throw Monkford into the mix and both women become putty for the moulding. They both lose all credibility and chance for redemption the second they let Monkford control them.
These aren’t well written women, they’re caricatures of women that men who are anti-woman think represent or resemble women as a whole.

Thematically, my interest was completely lost when the grieving mother storyline entered. Not that I don’t have sympathy for any mother who has lost a child, but because I can’t identify with it. I feel that this theme or subplot really alienates a large section of the female readership (which is in turn a large section of general readership of all books)
I am not a woman on a quest for a child and when this becomes such a prominent storyline in any book, it’s like the shutters just drop and I’m thinking “here we go again” the woman is having her actions explained away because “her condition made her do it” or maybe it was “her fragile state of mind”
If you think this is a contentious point, look at these books for examples of exactly the same device:
Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica (proof is in the title here)
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (also a second rate and utterly awful book)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (she was never pregnant but many of her actions are driven by the desire for her husband’s new life which includes the baby that should have been here)
-Leave Me by Gayle Forman (she ditches her husband and kids because they’re essentially shitty people who do nothing for her then gets involved with two other people with child related issues)

It would be cool if Delaney had written these women as two different kinds of villains, which is essentially what I think he was going for, but without turning them into stereotypes. Make them utterly morally repugnant, don’t just hover on the border of “hmm maybe they’ll make some questionable decisions” it’s a cop out.

I liked Simon as a character, I felt he had the most depth. He was the darker side to Monkford’s darkness. He masquerades as the doting, adoring boyfriend who would do anything for his girlfriend or wife when he is actually using kindness as a method of control. While Monkford is outright controlling and upfront about it from the start.

I hated the ending where a new character gets introduced for one chapter. This is probably a tool left in place for potential sequels, but it really irks me. Finish books properly, a really clever writer can write a sequel without leaving themselves an entry point in their previous work, just in case they get a sequel.

Also, can we stop with the alternating viewpoints please? PLEASE?! It’s so tired and over done. I’m at the point where I won’t buy a book if this is the method of writing.

I didn’t think this was a revolutionary book in any way, I resent a little the hype this was given at publisher events prior to publication because it definitely didn’t live up to them. It’s not the next big thing and I’m not in a hurry to read anything more by this author.

Final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

-Sam, xxoo

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