Review - WHAT CAME BEFORE, Anna George
Are you allowed to write reviews that just say "WOW"? No, well okay - an explanation of why "wow".
From the opening lines of WHAT CAME BEFORE it's hard not to be hooked. The man talking directly to the reader has just killed his wife. He's a lawyer, so his immediate reaction is to record his statement of events - into a dictaphone, sitting in his car. In the background there's the quiet, subdued voice of his wife. Hovering there in the laundry, also talking directly to the reader. Not as often, and not in a strong voice. Well you wouldn't if you were staring at your own lifeless form would you?
Sceptical readers, such as this one, might take one look at this aspect and roll eyes. Woo Woo is something that can be very hard to swallow, particularly in a storyline as confrontational as this. Ignore it. For reasons that are almost as hard again to describe, Elle's voice works. It's low key and somehow it provides a counterpoint to the panicked and fearful reactions of David.
WHAT CAME BEFORE takes a couple of brave directions. For a start there's the close up voice of David, confessing to the murder, explaining how he and Elle came to be. Drawing the reader right in close to the car crash that his life seems to be. Along the way the backstory of the couple is revealed. In the second direction, both Elle and David are, in their own ways, unpleasant. Okay, David wins in that he's the one who strangled his wife, but neither of these people are exactly warm, comforting, kind and gentle people. Their relationship is fraught and dramatic and on again off again, which makes their ultimate marriage even more difficult to understand. In fact, all the way through this plot there's no point at which you can ever figure out why. Why they paired up, why they stayed together, what on earth they were both thinking. Obviously neither of these characters quite see it like that and that's part of the poignancy.
Which brings us to the unexpected elements. WHAT CAME BEFORE is surprisingly poignant. It's hard to watch a car crash in the making for miles and miles. It's hard to watch two people that might be a bit unpleasant but surely don't deserve to do this to themselves or each other. It's hard to watch David's panic, and Elle's amazement at their fate. It's hard to like David, it's hard to like Elle, but it gets easier to understand them.
Which brings me back to the summary line. WHAT CAME BEFORE was simply, flat out a WOW read - couldn't believe it, couldn't put it down, can't forget it.
'My name is David James Forrester. I'm a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife. This is my statement.'
David sits in his car, sick to his stomach and barely able to order his thoughts, but determined to record his statement of events. His wife, Elle, hovers over her lifeless body as it lies on the laundry floor of the house they shared. David thinks back on their relationship – intimate, passionate, intense – and what led to this violent endpoint. Elle traces their shared past as well and her version of events gradually reveals how wrong she was about the man she'd loved.
Dark, atmospheric and gripping, What Came Before is a stunning literary thriller about the risks you take when you fall in love.