"Renaissance artists used the word 'pentimenti' – 'repentances' – to describe mistakes or alterations that were covered with new paint, only to be revealed after years or even centuries as the paint thinned with time, leaving both the original and the revision on view. Sometimes I have a sense that this house – our relationship in it, with it, with each other – is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back: a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame."
Jane is starting over after the loss of her daughter, and needs to find a place to live on a limited budget. She is offered an opportunity to apply to live in a beautiful, modern architect designed home, with a state of the art security system, very cheaply, but there is a catch. The eccentric owner has a long list of increasingly odd and intrusive rules that tenants must follow or risk eviction. Tenants must fill out a lengthy questionnaire about their personal values, are required to keep the house scrupulously tidy and are not permitted to bring in cushions, curtains, or personal effects such as photographs paintings or decorations. As Jane begins to adapt to this minimalist lifestyle she learns that the previous tenant, Emma, died in the house under mysterious circumstances. What's more, the two women resemble one another so closely they could be mistaken for sisters and Emma, like Jane, also became involved with Edward, the owner and designer of the house. Jane's tale is inter-cut with Emma's story, and as the mystery unfolds Jane may be in danger of sharing Emma's fate.
The Girl Before has been compared by other reviewers with Gone Girl and The Girl on a Train, but I confess I haven't read either of those. However, from what I heard about them I gather they are full of shocking plot twists and suspense, so that's what I expected from this book. I was not disappointed in that regard. The Girl Before certainly is an exciting thriller that keeps you wondering what will happen next. However there was more to it that I didn't expect. I did like the book overall, but I hesitate to recommend it because it is so full of things that would be triggering to many readers (abusive relationships, rape, infant loss, eating disorders, animal cruelty and even at one point literal gaslighting), but if you can stomach all that it's a mystery with depth and beauty mixed in with the terror.