After months and months of searching for for a flat, Emma and Simon, suddenly have been made privy of the perfect house. And, it's more that perfect. It's uber perfect. Designed by a world famous architect, this house is an architectural masterpiece, boasting sleek designs and soaring ceilings, and best of all, in a desirable neighbourhood. Who in their right mind, would say no to an opportunity of a lifetime?
That was BEFORE.
NOW, meet Jane. She's also house hunting and frustrated with the housing stock out there, based on what she can afford. Her agent suggests a hidden opportunity, a modern house in Hendon, one bedroom but with loads of space. The address: One Folgate Street.
Two stories. Two timelines. One House.
The chapters alternate between the two stories; Emma's story begins with a chapter heading "Then", while Jane's with "Now". The stories parallel each other in terms of the plot line. There is some predictability.
What's the deal with One Folgate Street anyway? The house is stunning, modern with a simplicity. A techno-minimalist design. Lots of hidden gadgetry, but otherwise completely bare. There is an incredible attention to detail, and the architect perhaps wants his tenant to give it just as must respect and love. No furniture or personal touches can be added into the space. The garden is modelled on karesansui, the formal meditative gardens of the Buddhist temples. The shapes are symbolic: mountain, water, sky. It's a garden for contemplating, not for growing things. Everything on the surface seems beautifully serene.
But just like with anything that seems too good to be true, there is a catch. For starters, tenants must fill out a tediously long questionnaire. This is not just any questionnaire. It gets personal. Perhaps a little too personal, tapping into the psyche and behavioural patterns of the applicant. The architect chooses his tenants, based on their answers, and an interview. Most tenants don't pass the test.
Other demands made by the landlord include rules that tenants must adhere to when they live in One Folgate Street. Rules like living with minimal belongings. Digital technology built into the house design, helps keep track of their habits and behaviours, ensuring that the tenants comply to what they agreed to in the first place.
If you are aware of Marie Kondo's KonMari method of tidying up, you will understand The Girl Before, and perhaps equate the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing to the obsessive nature of the architect who designed One Folgate Street. On paper it seems like a great idea to live a life that is simplistic serene environment, devote of many material passions. But after a while, you realize that such a life of unclutter may just be not be the ideal balm for uncluttering the demons in your mind.
The book pulls you in with this original concept, but slowly starts to deviate into a clichéd storyline that draws inspiration from another popular novel in an attempt to appeal to an adult audience. That's when it starts to feel less original and predictable to some degree. Nonetheless, Ron Howard is on tap to direct a movie version of The Girl Before and no doubt audiences will be swooned by the cast and lured into theatres by this thriller.