Review: What Came Before by Anna George

What Came BeforeMy name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife. This is my statement.’

In Melbourne’s inner west, David sits in his car, dictaphone in hand. He’s sick to his stomach but determined to record his version of events. His wife Elle hovers over her own lifeless body as it lies in the laundry of the house they shared. David thinks back on their relationship – intimate, passionate, intense – and what led to this terrible night.

From her eerie vantage point, Elle traces the sweep of their shared past too. Before David, she’d enjoyed a contented life – as a successful filmmaker, a much-loved aunt and friend. But in the course of two years, she was captivated and then undone by him. Not once in those turbulent times did she imagine that her alluring, complex husband was capable of this.

Dark, atmospheric and gripping, What Came Before is a stunning literary thriller about the risks you take when you fall in love.

Review

What Came Before drew me in, held my attention, and didn’t loosen its hold once I turned the last page. It was hard to put down. I found myself almost missing my stop on the train, thinking about it all day at work, and went so far as to consider losing precious sleep by staying up to read more.

This is a love story, but not the type you usually seek out to read. I personally despise abusive relationships while being equally saddened by them. I’ve known people in abusive relationships, I’ve seen the fallout, and I can never fathom why someone would hurt another human being. Especially those they love. The situation is never clear-cut though and it’s refreshing reading a love story with the running theme of abusive relationships, but lacking a distinct accusatory tone.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t come away from What Came Before with the delusion that abusive relationships are just fine and dandy. My stance on them hasn’t changed one iota. The story is told from more than one point of view, that of the victim (Ellie), the antagonist (David), and the victim’s friend (Mira). The telling is not black-and-white-villain-vs-good-guy, but shows David struggling with his rage and impulses. While Ellie goes through the roller coaster of emotions and self-identity that come with an abusive relationship, David is equal parts tender and enraged.

What I loved the most about What Came Before is the writing style and the way the story unfolded. It all begins with the incident the story eventually works towards. Ellie ends up having her out of body experience and David tries to understand what he has done. The majority of the plot follows their love story from the beginning while being interspersed with the present of Ellie’s predicament. It is written really well. I found I could guess at what had happened, but the complete picture still doesn’t come together until the end, which is not always expected when the story begins how this one did.

It was lovely being able to read a story like this in the setting of Melbourne. The setting lended to the realism of the story and the believable characters, as well as their reactions. I ended up thoroughly appreciating each of the characters and their interactions.

I’m left feeling bereft and saddened by the culmination of each character’s path and knowing, while this was a fictional story, abusive relationships are too real and even one is too many. Anna George wrote this story beautifully. It’s a great debut novel and an excellent introduction to her writing talents.

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