24 February 2021


Delaney, JP. The Girl Before. Ballantine Books, 2017.

One Folgate Street isn't my vibe. Houses that look like museums are not it. Neither are those Pinterest interior vignettes. Too perfect. Dust is its own cozy filter.

Like the would-be tenants, who at first are doubtful of this architectural milestone, I slowly see its arguments. We are continuous with our environment. Where we live becomes us in as much as we diffuse ourselves in the place we call home.

The book, of course — like its fantasy, if fantastic house — is exaggerating. At least for me it requires much more effort to suspend my disbelief, to imagine that there are actual people who could leave their normal messy homes and embrace a stark lifestyle.

Techno-architect Edward Monkford seems to subcribe to a minimalist philosophy. Frankly, I don't know what minimalism is. Based on the descriptions in the novel, however, I would phrase it as a philosophy of focus. In a romantic partnership, for example, he has developed an unwritten manifesto. The relationship shall carry on as long as the conditions are perfect. When it's no longer the case, that's a sign to move on. As such, his best relationships can last a weekend, some years. Length doesn't matter; quality does.

Edward also makes it a rule "to only ever look at one thing in a museum... Any more and you can't appreciate what you're seeing." (p 135)

Mulling over that sentence, maybe there is a minimalist in me. Again, I do not know what it means. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is I aspire for a life defined by neatness and clarity. If the universe gives me two can openers, a choice must be made: which of these will I discard? There are many things that I want to not only do but do well, yet my resources compel me to go through another process of elimination.

"This is hard-water area, Jane... If you're not careful you'll get limescale building up on the stone. It's really noticeable. Really, you should dry the shower off every time you use it."
"Isn't that a bit — well, obsessive?"
"No," he says. "It's whatever the opposite of lazy is." He considers, "meticulous, perhaps."
"Isn't life simply too short to dry showers after you use them?"
"Or perhaps," he says reasonably, "life is simply too short to live it less perfectly than it could be lived." (pp 140 – 141)
I am both Jane and Eward in that exchange. Lazy and obsessive. Somehow I have to accept that cleaning up and — to extend the idea — dull routines, even making mistakes and correcting them are joyful obsessions.

Always I go for the homey. As I think about it, I don't know what it means either. My pre-apartment self would say weathered couches, mismatched cups and saucers (which I can't stand now), knickknacks (also can't stand), and colors. Not imperfection brought on by neglect. Warmth is a huge ingredient and it's hard to manufacture. By this I know exactly what I mean. Human warth. All the fuss about building a house, buying the right furniture and dinnerware aren't for show, but for living alongside and building a life with others.

What I speak of is the house as a limb by which you can express love.


To those who saw the photo of the book (coincidentally taken at a restaurant known for its homey ambience and ridiculous prices — can't help but take the opportunity to critique) and expected a review, I apologize. I honestly didn't know (how many times have I said this already?) what to write; but it's been my habit to respond to what I've read with a blog. Quickly, yes I enjoyed The Girl Before very much. It made me feel scared, which is a compliment. It made me read hundreds of pages and push through to the end despite my eyes wanting to sleep. It made me want to read author JP Delaney's next thriller, Believe Me.

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