Before We Met is the type of novel in which readers know what to expect from the characters and from the plot. It has all the characteristics of a typical Hollywood thriller – a well-to-do, gorgeous and successful couple who meets, falls in love quickly, and finds themselves married before anyone can blink thereby establishing the kind of marriage that is too good to last because of unknown issues. Of course, it is only as they settle into married life in which the questions and doubts come to light. This much-done plot remains popular for a reason, and Ms. Whitehouse fully capitalizes on those reasons. Her glimpses into the privileged life of wealthy Londoners alone satisfy a human’s basic prurient interest in others’ lives. Similarly, she uses Hannah’s growing doubts about her husband to serve as the ever-present warning about an independent woman giving up everything for a man. There is nothing wrong with the story per se, but compared to hundreds of other similar stories, Before We Met is mediocre at best.
One of the main issues readers will have with the story, outside of its predictability and staleness, is Hannah. In Hannah, Ms. Whitehouse has a vibrant, talented, educated, strong, independent woman. The fact that she essentially gives up her entire career, or inadvertently postpones it, for marriage does not fit into the traits one knows about her. She thrives on discipline and creativity but loses her mind a bit when it comes to her concerns about Mark. Granted, her issues with her mother, something pounded into readers with a 10-ton hammer, are quite obviously at play here, but her behavior during the novel is nothing like the Hannah readers glimpse in flashbacks and memories. Without a doubt, the change in Hannah is meant to provide yet another warning to female readers about losing oneself in a relationship. One just wishes the lesson were not so blatant. For such a strong female heroine, subtle changes would better suit the story.
By the time a reader knows all of Mark’s secrets, unveiled piecemeal as Hannah works through her investigation, they are anything but a surprise. In fact, one can predict the direction of the novel well before a plot twist. There is still enough tension within the narrative to pique a reader’s interest. However, as the novel rushes towards its inevitable conclusion, that interest is merely to determine the accuracy of one’s predictions.
Before We Met is one that ultimately disappoints right from the beginning. The pattern followed by Ms. Whitehouse is essentially a cliché at this point in time. Yet, everyone still enjoys even a clichéd story every once in a while. The truly disappointing aspect of Before We Met is the characters, particularly Hannah. If her characters were a bit less archetypal and more unique, her story would definitely be among the better woman-marries-man-and-troubles-ensue-almost-immediately versions. As it is, it is nothing but a run-of-the-mill unhappily-ever-after warning.