Before We Met
Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury AUS
Hannah has always been a commitment-phobe. She watched her desperate, clingy mother drive her father away and she’s always vowed to never be the same. Although from England, Hannah has been living and working in New York and she meets Mark, also English, through friends. After a false start, it is a whirlwind courtship and they marry after just a few months. Hannah spends the first few months of their marriage still living in New York whilst Mark is in London but then she packs up her life, resigns from her job and joins him in his big house. Mark runs a very successful data packaging company and it makes sense for Hannah to be the one to move. She has some savings and Mark is able to provide for her more than adequately whilst she is searching for a job.
Everything is perfect until one night when Mark doesn’t come home from a business trip when he is supposed to. Hannah has driven out to Heathrow to meet his plane only for all of the passengers to disembark, none of them Mark. She hangs around for a while, watching other planes land, thinking that maybe she got it wrong or he had been bumped to another flight. She can’t contact him and finally she goes home, not sure what is going on. When she finally hears from Mark, he has reasons and excuses of everything that could go wrong, did go wrong and she seems reassured.
Until she discovers that everything Mark said was a lie. And it’s not the first time he’s lied to her. And now her life savings have vanished, transferred to Mark. There are new mortgages and debts she knew nothing about. There’s the story of Mark’s brother, who has never been mentioned before. Hannah finds herself in a vulnerable position, stripped of everything that was hers, trapped with a man she might not be able to trust.
How well do we know the person we’ve been sleeping with, that we’ve devoted our lives to? Lucie Whitehouse’s latest novel tackles that question as it unpicks a relationship that seems perfect, both to outsiders and also Hannah, who is one half of it. The book begins the night that Mark fails to get off his plane and so for the reader, there are clear suspicions about Mark from the beginning, as you wonder whether or not he is sinister or if he’s part of a more elaborate ploy. Slowly through glimpses of the past, Whitehouse fleshes out Mark and Hannah’s meeting and earlier relationship, giving them life as a couple. And then the stories start coming.
I don’t read a lot of psychological thrillers but they seem to fall into three main categories: ones where the reader picks what’s happening early on, ones where the reader picks nothing or ones where the reader thinks they’ve picked what’s happening but is proved wrong in the end. This one kept me turning the pages from the very beginning – I was desperate to know exactly what had happened to Mark when he didn’t show up. And then he did show up, full of excuses and platitudes and outrageous stories and he seemed so genuine I wanted to believe in him. Mark is the sort of guy that I think every woman would like to meet: he’s handsome, successful, charming and generous. He’s also devoted to Hannah which makes it so hard for her to pick through the pieces of information she’s being given. She loves him and wants to trust in him. But what she’s been told and found out elsewhere don’t add up to what Mark is telling her and she’s trying desperately to marry the two stories up and have them cohesive.
I thought Hannah’s character was expertly done. The writer clearly portrays all of the emotions that Hannah goes through as the story unfolds. The concern she feels in the beginning, then the relief as Mark reappears and gives his reasons. Then as the story gets more complex, so do Hannah’s actions and emotions. There’s a desperate hope to her that I believe most women would have in her situation, of wanting the man they chose to commit themselves to, to justify their faith in him. Hannah had some emotional baggage from her childhood, watching her parents separate and she’d already dismissed several men from her life who could have been good life partners, simply because she never wanted to end up down the same path her mother did. However, she chose Mark, she committed to him, she uprooted her whole life for him. There are times when Hannah revels in this decision, in her marriage and relationship. And there are times when it quite obviously terrifies her, when she wonders whether or not she made the biggest mistake of her life. When she finds that her life savings have disappeared, her reaction is on par with how I imagine my own might be in a similar circumstance. I also really liked that Hannah acted on suspicions she had and tried to find out more information, although she did in some ways, put herself in danger whilst trying to find out more information. She wasn’t just going to sit around and keep taking what she was being told and she began to do her own research and try and piece together what is happening herself. She wants answers and it’s clear she doesn’t trust what she’s being told and the best way to get the truth is to piece the story together herself and go by what she finds out.
Before We Met is a very clever and engaging story that keeps the reader guessing right up until the end. It’s a really interesting portrayal of a relationship and how we can think we know someone and the smallest of things can leave us wondering if we ever really did know them at all. And also how the smallest of things can escalate into the largest.
Book #29 of 2014