Clara Lawson is torn from her life in an instant. Without warning, her home is invaded by armed men, and she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing. In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara’s fractured life.
When I read The Girl Before‘s blurb, I expected to find a Room-like book where a young woman who had been kidnapped almost all her life finally went free. However, TGB wasn’t that kind of story, or at least it wasn’t just about that. It was so intense and captivating that just after a few pages I knew I was reading a very special novel.
Clara Lawson lives happily with her husband and daughters until she’s snatched from her home and told that her husband is a dangerous criminal. After that, her daughters are taken away and brought to their real families, something that Clara doesn’t really understand. In addition, these men keep calling her Diana… but who is she?
The book is divided into many short chapters alternating Before & Now. The main issue with this structure is that Before is not told chronologically, something which I thought was pretty confusing, especially at the beginning. Despite my initial confusion, both sections turned out to be equally interesting, one showing Clara’s disturbing life and the other portraying her road to freedom.
Rena Olsen has crafted a gripping and poignant story about a woman who begins to discover that life as she knew it might not be as it’s supposed to be. I found the concept riveting and super original! Imagine that one day you’re suddenly told that things you considered normal are actually not. I’m being vague on purpose because I don’t want to spoil any details, but the topic was severely upsetting.
Clara was not an easy character, but as much as I wanted to dislike her, I simply couldn’t. She was a victim, yes, but also a perpetrator. However, at some point I realized that I might have been the same. It doesn’t really depend on your intelligence but on the fact that you haven’t experienced anything else: you don’t know any better.
This might not be about a cult per se, but I believe that if you’re a lover (like me, obviously) of books that focus on communities with their own set of rules (no matter how sick they are), this might be right up your alley. I highly recommend this story to fans of both thrillers and dark dramas. Warning: this is not an easy read but it will definitely make you think.
The only reason why I’m not giving this 5 stars is because there were no real surprises and the story was pretty straight-forward once you figured out what was going on. In spite of that, The Girl Before is a fascinating novel that I absolutely loved. Let me know what you think of it!
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016
I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.