This book was absolutely unputdownable. It also had a strange effect on me: It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount). The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.
The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.
Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170): Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.
Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.
I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this. Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations. I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.
Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to). His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not. He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)
The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains. Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her). She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm).
Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.
Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father). Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.
I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter. THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.
But, back to Monkford: A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity. Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision. Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green. All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.
Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.
The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star). It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way. I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending. What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.
Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there). I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!
Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.
One gripe that has nothing to do with the book: I don’t like authors going by different names. What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name? There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.