Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse; book review


Gone Girl had neon orange lettering on matt black with a demented scribble design. Before We Met has neon pink lettering on matt black with an exploding flower. Its tagline - “The most dangerous lies are those closest to home” – could very well have been the tagline for Gone Girl.

Publishers love a formula, and in the last three years domestic thrillers in the Did I Marry an Axe Murderer? mode have been a lucrative hit. It makes sense. If the search for Mr Right has spawned thousands of romances, then what happens if Mr Right turns out to be Mr Psychopathically Wrong ought to be fertile ground for thousands of thrillers. Before We Met follows Gillian Flynn’s superbly tricksy Gone Girl and S J Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep – both international bestsellers with Hollywood adaptations in the pipeline – in asking the worrisome question, how well does any wife really know her husband?

Like its predecessors, Before We Met is told from the point of view of a paranoid her indoors. This one is Hannah, a thirtysomething British advertising executive who lives in New York and, like an advertising exec’s case study of an upwardly mobile thirtysomething, likes Barolo wine, Alan Hollinghurst novels and running (or at least she pretends to like the latter). She does not like serious relationships and avoids commitment for fear of ending up like her “moribund” mother, a divorcee who lives alone in Malvern, having driven her husband away with jealousy.

One weekend Hannah’s friends introduce her to Mark, a handsome fellow Brit who has his own software company. After some initial frostiness on Hannah’s part they hit it off. In a matter of months she has quit her job to marry him and make a new, expensive home in London. He, meanwhile, continues to fly between the two cities on business. When he doesn’t arrive on his scheduled flight from JFK one Friday, she uncovers a skein of lies, starting with his whereabouts and spooling down through his finances, secretive phone calls to another woman and, finally, a dark secret from the past. 

The tension builds revelation by revelation and barely loosens its grip throughout - the kind of thriller to keep you turning pages into the small hours and then miss your stop on your morning commute. Even in Hannah’s rosy reminiscences of their early romance, there are sinister signs – the door that swings shut “like a jaw” at the beach house where they first meet, the way that Mark just happens to show up at the bookshop where Hannah has gone to bunk off their first date, her brother’s odd reaction to their engagement. Then again, perhaps Hannah is being overly suspicious – it is in her genes, after all.

Once the central secret is revealed, the quiet tension of the first half dissipates into a more action-packed and rather predictable run of events. Whitehouse has a feel for a compelling plot but she has a tendency to over-write around the edges. Houses are described down to the very last flagstone of Welsh slate or lace-edged antimacassar; outfits are described with the pedantic detail of a fashion blogger; one page has two similes for the noise of a vacuum cleaner (it billows out “like a dust cloud”, then is sucked back in “like a bubblegum bubble”).  And yet elsewhere the narrative lacks fleshing out. For all the endless time we spend inside Hannah’s head, she becomes neither more familiar nor more likeable over the course of 300 pages.

Readers are now savvy to tales where a spouse is not as angelic as he or she seems, where a fiendishly spun tissue of lies and charm eventually gives way to a bloody showdown. They are fast becoming the Midsomer Murders of the holiday reading market, only with a trendy urban setting and more booze, sex and aspirational consumer goods. Still, with its glamorous protagonists and transatlantic appeal, Whitehouse’s novel has film script written all over it. Someone should give Claire Danes a call, pronto: she would make an excellent Hannah.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?