In brief: Hannah’s idyllic marriage begins to crack when Mark doesn’t return home one night. The subsequent ride is full of twists, turns and things nobody expected.
The good: The plot makes some incredible hairpin turns that just can’t be predicted, making the book impossible to put down.
The not-so-good: Some may dismiss this as another Gone Girl, but it’s not!
Setting: England (with flashbacks to the USA)
My rating: 10 out of 10
Sometimes you meet a book that is just right for you at the time. Not long after I received this book, I opened it up to idly glance through the first few pages and was hooked. This book had exactly what I wanted – a plot that was in no way predictable, characters that hid something of themselves away from the reader and an intense reading experience. If you enjoy Sophie Hannah’s books or Gone Girl, Before We Met will be right up your street.
The novel opens innocently enough- Hannah, a thirty-something who thought she’d never get married, but ended up with a wonderful man (Mark) is waiting for him at Heathrow airport. It’s something of a throwback to their courting days where they’d fly across the Atlantic to see each other, but this time Mark doesn’t show up. Hannah waits and waits, starting to get a little panicky. Mark’s not answering his phone, his personal assistant seems to think he’d taken Hannah away for the weekend and there’s a nasty surprise online – could her husband really have stopped loving her so soon?
I really don’t want to give away the plot details, because part of the reason why this book packs such a punch is because the reader can’t see what’s coming. Whitehouse springs another clue out of the box and everything you thought was true is suddenly in doubt. It’s an amazing skill and makes me want to read more of her books. Plus, she is the queen of ‘just one more chapter’ – so many chapters ended just as Hannah found out something new!
The story is told by Hannah and I found her to be a much more reliable and trustworthy narrator – why? Is it because she openly admits that she thought she was left on the shelf before Mark? Is it because she pours her heart out to the reader in her fears about never finding another job or secretly not being good enough for Mark? There’s something slightly pathetic in the way Hannah initially puts Mark on a pedestal – does this make us feel sorry for her? Or it is the journey that starts when Mark doesn’t return home one night?
It’s interesting that Mark doesn’t physically come into the narrative until a good chunk of the book has passed. But by then, we’ve already formed our opinion of him based on Hannah’s thoughts and retellings of the way they met. Does this bias our view of Mark? Another character is introduced not long after this and we don’t meet them until much later – so much of the reader’s opinions of characters are formed before ever reading about them in the flesh. They can’t defend themselves when they haven’t even spoken! It’s a fascinating device to use and makes me wonder how much we do this in real life? Forming opinions of people we’ve never met, like celebrities – how much of this is coloured by the reports of others? Even people we think we do know – how much do we really know? What hides in their depths? What happened before we knew them?
Enough musing. This is a fast paced psychological thriller that will have you reading non-stop, savouring every word. Highly recommended for times when you have large chunks to read – not one to start when you can only snatch a few minutes!