Reading is a tool every woman should posses. And I don’t mean the physical skill of being able to understand words and follow sentences across a page. I mean being able to truly read, feel and connect to a book, a story, a chapter of something that so many would not. Reading can make you cry. It can make you feel strong. It can make you weak, and sick, and misled and confused and it can give you back the emotions that society seems determine to compress.
A woman is not lesser because she feels. She is more because she understands what it means to feel. And a woman who reads feels everything. The women in JP Delaney’s ‘The Girl Before’ are feelings and strength combined. They are clever, and unintelligent, and underpaid and over appreciated. The story within the book follows two time streams of women – the girl from now, and the girl before. Emma, who moves in 1 Fulgate Street after a burglary in her flat, and Jane, who moves in after a traumatising still born birth two years later. And whilst this review won’t definitively spoil the ending of the story – it might just filter how you read it.
There is a particular aura around the women of books at the moment. With guidance from celeb book ninjas like Emma Watson, and the virtual support of guru Zoella’s Book Club, reading is slowly coming back into fashion for the women of 2017. But having recently fallen back into the world of books, I couldn’t help but notice something different about The Girl Before. The plot was original, the prose was enjoyable, and although I consumed it via audiobook rather than hardback, I was still able to escape entirely into the twists and turns of the story. But the girls…unfortunately, they let me down. Let’s begin with Emma. Having listened intently to every single, beautifully articulated lexim of this novel, here are the facts I have learnt about Emma: she is attractive, she cheats on her partners, she likes to be dominated sexually, she lies, and she has no power nor potential in her professional life. She is two dimensional in the worst way. I don’t know whether Delaney felt adding depth to Emma’ character would make her too likeable and human, or he genuinely believes women are nothing but what they look like, what they want, and the mistakes they make. Either way, it made for slightly outdated reading. I’ll never know which books Emma likes to read. What her favourite coffee chain is. Whether she enjoys fashion, art, music, old films, model trains or sport. Forever, she is entombed as a bad character in literature, whose only motivation was sexual submission and adultery. And even worse – Jane, read by the beautiful Emilia Fox, although slightly softer than the bluntly bad Emma, is defined by characteristics even more outdated than her predecessors. She looks…exactly like Emma. Her professional life is even more pitiful than Emma’s. Her entire emotional state is dependant on motherhood and men. And although she fights back in a *spoiler* climactic scene of life and death, her will to live is still not self-contained. Instead she is driven by a second chance of motherhood, using Tom and Jerry tactics to end the life of her attacker. Much like Emma, the second tenant of 1 Fulgate Street is only described to us by her appearance and her motivations. She is sketched by a man, but we have no idea if she herself enjoys sketching. She is cooked for by a man, but does she like cooking? Her laptop is controlled by the technological interfaces of the house, but would she browse for anything other than plot devices? Online bingo? Antique auctions? Football scores? To write a fully formed female character, the author must remember that the sum of a woman’s parts is more than her biggest asset. It is all of the fragments that piece her together that will bring to her life from the page. Her favourite foods, her least favourite wines, her experiences, her hobbies, her passions, her mistakes and successes. Delaney fails here, which makes such a gripping and addictive story fall flat.
But feminism is not a concept constructed solely from the representations of women. The male characters of this book perform some crucially unnerving roles in their narratives – with none bar one actually behaving somewhat realistically. From the architect of the house, with etchings of Christian Grey scrawled across his characterisation – from his sexual dominance, to his violence, to his obsession with controlling the woman of his lives like cold plastic mannequins. Secondly, to the initially meek and gentle Simon, with a much more dangerous and pitiful attitude to control – blinded and criminalised by his need for possession. Saul, the workmate with a leering stare and an eagerness to betray. Should the men of this novel represent the men of reality, society should be absolutely terrified.
For my general thoughts on the book, I can summarise all other aspects of it into the rating of 9/10. I adored the writing style, and the intelligent use of imagery. I loved the world created through this book, and it reminded me entirely of why good books like this need to exist to remind us that our imaginations have a hell of a lot more power than we think. The story was unpredictable throughout, and although the ending felt a little unsteady to me, I still felt devastated as the final sentence ended. But for a modern book, telling the story of two modern women, in a world steeped in politics and political correctness and empowerment and an army of people campaigning for global equality…there’s no room for two dimensional storytelling in the library of 2017.
Thank you so much for reading! To check out my last post, helping small businesses to up their Facebook Advertising game, click here. Or, if you’re looking for something a little chunkier to fill up your afternoon, then take a look at my recommended reading list below – for anyone wondering what good feminist prose should sound like.
Good Books with Girls Who Kick Butt
- Apple Tree Yard
- Half The World Away
- Holding Up The Universe
- The Fault In Our Stars
- Big Little Lies
- Anne of Green Gables
- The Good Girl