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

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital