BEFORE WE MET
Author: Lucie Whitehouse
Bloomsbury Publishing RRP $27.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Once I’d read the blurb on the back of Before We Met, I was keen to get stuck into what promised to be a thrilling, keep-you-guessing read … exactly the type of book I love to get my hands on. Give me a taut psychological thriller that I can’t put down and I’m lost within the story until the last page. It’s a pity that sleep and work had to interfere with my reading of Before We Met, because once I’d started, I was reluctant to stop. Unfortunately, when a book lands on your face because you fell asleep reading, it’s a sign that sleep wins!
Hannah and Mark’s whirlwind romance was everything Hannah had hoped love would be … and everything she’d given up on. Moving from affair to affair, she almost gives Mark the flick despite her attraction to him, but there’s something about him she can’t resist. The story opens when the couple are married and making a comfortable life for themselves in London. Finally secure in a relationship, Hannah’s guard is down, so when Mark fails to return home from a business trip to the US, she’s unprepared for the uncertainty this unleashes. His failure to contact her leads her to ask questions, first of the hotel at which he usually stayed, and then of his colleagues and friends. Their responses take her aback. Why do they think Mark’s in Rome? And why has another woman been calling him at work? When Hannah discovers that Mark has added more money to his hefty mortgage and accessed her own savings, she is shocked. What is going on? When Mark returns, apologetic and with ready answers to all of Hannah’s questions, Hannah is appeased, mollified, and determined to stand by her husband’s side. As the situation accelerates, the reader, like Hannah, is caught up in the tension as two brothers point the finger at each other.
Whitehouse skilfully creates a tense environment as a confused woman tries to come to terms with the news that her husband has kept not one, but a number of secrets from her, and then has to decide whether his reasons are acceptable. Hannah, and the reader, asks, “Who is Mark protecting? Himself? Or Hannah?” While Mark’s answers appear reasonable, an atmosphere of unease lingers and the suspicion never quite fades. Doubt pervades the story as things look like they add up, but you just can’t put your finger on why the equation is wrong. None of us really know who our partners were before we met, and most of us will have experienced a moment (or more) when trust is called into question; Whitehouse plays on our fears, whether buried or not, using them to her advantage to create distrust as we read.
Before We Met has been compared to Gone Girl by a number of reviewers. I’ve read Gone Girl (I thought it was well done) and the comparison is valid so far as both plots centre on a relationship in which one, or both, partners are not who they seem. That’s about it. The narrative of Before We Met is significantly different. Where Gone Girl tells its story through the voices of both partners, leaving readers wondering which (if any) is reliable, Before We Met is told only through Hannah’s perspective and there’s really nothing to suggest that she’s an unreliable narrator. Rather, she’s a woman who has slowly let down her guard, only for the barriers to be triggered, lowered, and then left hanging in the wind. My own theory about what was going on was ultimately proven correct, and the tension didn’t reach hold-your-breath, stomach-twisting levels, but I was pleased with the way it was all tied together.
I enjoyed this book and would be happy to read more from Whitehouse. If you’ve read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, or you enjoy psychological suspense, give this one a go.
Available from good bookstores and Bloomsbury. My copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury.
Bookish treat: If I told you what I ate while reading this book, I’d have to … oh fine, it was potato chips.