Okay, I’m really starting to think there’s something wrong with me. I haven’t had a single 5 star rating this month – what’s up with that? In fact, not one of my reads has even come close to it! Here is yet another disappointment….
I first heard about The Girl Before in a Book Proofs Haul over on justkissmyfrog’s YouTube channel (she’s one of my favourites by the way – definitely check her out!). I thought the concept of the novel sounded really interesting, and I was excited to read something good in this genre especially after my disappointment with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, neither of which gripped me. In fact, in both previous cases, I found the characters detestable, the action over-the-top and unbelievable – basically just meh. But this one, this was a thriller about minimalism – what’s not to love? I was excited to get started!
In the interest of full disclosure, when I first finished this book, I gave it 3/5 stars as a gut feeling (it had been a quick read, and I still loved the concept). However, as the story settled, I realised that I was way too generous and dropped it down… here’s why:
The first thing I think is important to note, is that J P Delaney is actually a pseudonym for writer Tony Strong. This rubbed me up the wrong way. I understand Strong’s decision to use a more unisex title in a genre dominated my female writers, but I felt duped. Writing from the perspectives of two female characters, I found it hard to shake the commercialisation of that decision. I also felt icky when the story started to deal with issues like rape, abortion, abuse, and other issues.
Speaking of feeling icky, I’m going to level with you, I hate smut. I never have, and probably never will, read 50 Shades of Grey – so you can imagine my discomfort when this story took a turn for the worse. I just find it tasteless and often unnecessary to include, and this book was particularly offensive because I wasn’t entirely expecting it. It took away from what was, otherwise, quite a good plot.
Even as the story progressed, I would still consider myself a fan of the basic concept. It was, largely, well executed, it was just choked by the other twists he tried to include. But I did like the idea of minimalism being painted in a more sinister light, especially when it’s a lifestyle I embrace.
‘But Abby,’ I hear you say ‘surely that’s not enough reason for a 2/5 star rating?’. Well grasshopper, you would be right. The story lost almost a full star for its decision to deal with Down Syndrome – and how poorly it was executed. I hated the nonchalance with which this book discusses both the topics of abortion and of special needs children, the idea that she would have aborted the child if she had learned of its condition made me so angry! I understand that later in the story, the writer tried to backpedal, and suggests this would have been a mistake, but it still left a really bitter taste in my mouth. Down Syndrome is a very delicate subject, and it’s a topic that is just too big to be properly dealt with in the last 100 pages of a book. I don’t think the decision to include this ‘twist’ was necessary, and it didn’t add anything to Jane’s character. It was just another tasteless edition to this story.
(Here they come, spoilers galore!)
It was Simon? Really? This just felt weird to me. After the author had gone to so much trouble making Emma a compulsive liar and Edward a creep who only dates women like his wife/has vicious sex, making Simon the killer was an interesting paradox of being totally out of character, and yet completely predictable at the same time.
Then, there was Simon’s death, which I’m hoping someone can explain to me. Why did Jane make it look like an accident? It was self-defence!
Then, there was that ending. I’m glad Jane had her baby, but I was really hoping Edward would undergo some sort of character development, but no such luck. In fact, none of the characters really underwent any great deal of character development above being transformed into sociopaths.
Overall, I gave this book 2/5 stars. That’s probably a little harsh, but it’s nowhere near good enough to warrant 3/5. The novel made me feel really icky reading it, and the story was fairly predictable. The saving grace was the writing, and how easy it was to get through. I’d say, if you’re interested in the concept, it might be worth a read, but it will forever join my list of thrillers I didn’t appreciate.