Maybe that’s the real point of The Rules, as we’ve already dubbed them. Maybe it isn’t simply that the architect’s a control freak who’s worried we’ll mess up his beautiful house. Maybe it’s a kind of experiment. An experiment in living.
The story of One Folgate Street is told through the two alternating narratives of Emma, set in the past, and Jane, set in the present. It begins when each of these women are searching for a place to live- Emma, along with her boyfriend Simon, to escape the terror of her previous home following an alleged burglary and Jane to escape the grief she’s experiencing following a stillbirth. Both women are brought to the house and are simultaneously in awe of the design and technology and the massive list of rules.
There are about two hundred stipulations in all. But it’s the final one that causes the most problems.
Neither are deterred and we quickly see what the house will mean for them both. They grow accustomed to the way of life the house requires. They also grow closer to it’s architect, Edward Monkford. He seduces them with an unusually practiced hand and he charms them with his distinct personality that is echoed in his design and belief.
Perhaps architecture isn’t really about buildings at all, he says. We accept that town planning is a kind of architecture, after all. Motorway networks, airports— these too, at a stretch. But what about technology? What about that invisible city in which we all stroll, or lurk, or play: the Internet? What about the frameworks of our lives, the bonds that tie us, our aspirations and our baser desires? Are these not also structures, in a way?
The affairs become tangled due, in part, to Emma’s resistance to conform and Jane’s discoveries. Not long after Jane moves in she is accosted by a man leaving flowers at her door. What she learns about the previous tenant both shocks her and spurs her to uncover the secrets of One Folgate Street.
He looks straight at me. His eyes are haggard. “She was murdered. The coroner recorded an open verdict but everyone— even the police— knew she’d been killed. First he poisoned her mind, then he killed her.”
However, it becomes clear that things are not quite what they seem at first- leading Emma into a police investigation and Jane to question her decision to live there.
I’ve never found One Folgate Street a frightening place. But now the silence and the emptiness seem to take on a more sinister hue. Ridiculous, of course; like being scared after hearing a ghost story. But all the same, I select the brightest light setting and go around checking for— what? Not intruders, obviously. But for some reason the house no longer feels quite so protective.
Rapid fire revelations clarify the numerous scenarios that play out throughout the story. Along the way, Emma and Jane are fleshed out and their reasons for moving to One Folgate Street add dimension to this domestic thriller. The Girl Before goes beyond the generic suspense and reveals the deeper psychology behind grief and our struggle to cope.
Freud talks about something he called repetition compulsion. That is, a pattern in which someone acts out the same sexual psychodrama over and over again, with different people allotted the same unchanging roles. At a subconscious or even a conscious level, they’re hoping to rewrite the outcome, to perfect whatever it was that went wrong before. Inevitably, though, the same flaws and imperfections they themselves bring to the relationship destroy it, in exactly the same way.
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A review copy of this title was provided by Random House- Ballentine via Netgalley.