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
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil