Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
From Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love album to most of the work of glum old Raymond Carver, the who-the-hell-did-I-marry genre has a long and proud history among artists. Being a touring rock star or a chronically drunk writer does tend to promote certain missteps, though there’s no evidence that Lucie Whitehouse fits either category, and her bibliography – Before We Met is her third novel – and a bio that implies she lives peaceably in New York indicate that her own contribution to the category springs purely from a healthy imagination.
At the outset, when Hannah’s husband Mark fails to arrive at Heathrow as scheduled on an international flight, she has reason to worry. There have been no problems with any of the planes from New York that evening, and given Mark’s steady nature, the chances that he’s gotten into some kind of mess are slim.
A flurry of exposition revisits Hannah’s formerly lonely life and her accelerated courtship with Mark, and reveals that the couple have been married only eight months and known each other about twice as long, with Hannah, having given up her plum and hard-earned New York advertising career to relocate, thus far unable to land a job in her new home city.
Fortunately, with Mark heading up his own wildly successful tech firm, money isn’t a worry – until it is. In the few days it takes her errant husband to arrive home, replete with convincing excuses, amateur detective Hannah uncovers evidence of apparent financial infidelity, the first clue that she may not know the man she married. While she tries to maintain a cool head when faced with the inscrutable, charming Mark, she frantically mines her memory, all the way back to their first encounter, for red flags that might have gone unseen.
All the while, Hannah resists indulging her misgivings, fearing becoming her own mother – and let it be said, Before We Met is not a positive account of familial ties – who “let insecurity gnaw and gnaw away at her own marriage until it collapsed around her ears.”
Whitehouse’s prose is sober and measured, and there are enough stories of dysfunctional families to prove that her premise, right down to its heady, histrionic outcome, is plausible. While the climax may not deliver a great surprise, Whitehouse’s deft touch in creating mood means a distinctly unsettled feeling may come upon you as Hannah pokes and prods at the slumbering beast that is Mark’s heretofore unknown past – why would you disbelieve your dashing suitor when he tells you about his family? – and it becomes clear that something is about to rouse, and it won’t be pleased.
Previously reviewed on Coast FM.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones