The Girl Before by JP Delany. 320 pages
One architecturally unique house, two women (years apart) and one man that connects everything.
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma (Then) is looking to start over and in a new place. When she finds One Folgate Street, she instantly feels a connection. As a minimalist masterpiece is stunning, although intimidating. Even more intimidating is the selection process, because the architect alone chooses who may live in this house. Intended to transform its occupant, the space starts to change Emma's life.
Jane (Now) is recovering from a personal tragedy and needing a fresh start. Instantly drawn to One Folgate Street, she is determined to be the one chosen to live in the house. However, after she moves in, she learns about the untimely death of the former tenant, a woman eerily similar to Jane in age and appearance. Unwittingly following some of the same patterns, is she doomed to experience the same terror as the girl before?
I enjoyed this book, both premise-wise and writing-wise. I liked the concept of the house that bends occupants to its will, and demands an austere, disciplined life. I found the two women, differentiated by both name and time (Then and Now) to be compelling and interesting, and the story kept me guessing about what was going to happen. The author has a way of drawing the reader in with descriptions, but also some of the details. For example, the way that each woman analyzes her situation and the house, intrigued me. For example, at one point, Jane sees the house and her relationship with it as a kind of palimpsest. "In my art history degree course, we did a module on palimpsests - medieval sheets of parchment so costly that, once the text was no longer needed, the sheets were simply scraped clean and reused, leaving the old writing faintly visible though the new. Later, Renaissance artists used the word pentimenti, repentances, to describe mistakes or alterations that were covered with new paint, only to be revealed years or even centuries later as the paint thinned with time, leaving both the original and the revision on view. 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 coming back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame." (p. 170).
I found the book intriguing enough that I'd mark it down for a second read at some point, in part because I enjoy the writing (like the example above) so much.