The Girl I Used to Be
by Mary Torjussen
Gemma Brogan is struggling.
After moving to a quiet and quaint country town, she thought she’d finally found some peace. Creating her boutique real estate agency was her dream, and she poured every ounce of passion and experience she had into cornering a niche market and providing excellent customer service. The problems she’d left behind in the city were put as far in the past as she could store them, boxed up and shoved into the deepest corners of her mind and forgotten, covered in dust. She needed to forget. She needed to move on.
Being pregnant was the icing on the cake. The cheery rainbow hovering over her happy existence and new life. Every kick and tumble her unborn son made inside of her only elevated her feelings of joy and contentment. Perfect job. Perfect husband. Perfectly painted nursery and baskets full of perfect fairy tale books on the nightstand. Life surely couldn’t get any better, could it?
Perhaps not, but it could get worse.
Modern-day Gemma looks back on her former self with longing more often than she’d like to admit. The optimism she had for her life merely four years ago was palpable, as thick as carefully curated saltwater taffy sold on a pier overlooking the sea. She’d been so eager for motherhood, only to have it snatched away weeks after her son was born. She’d been pushed out. Replaced. Rejected.
Well, dramatics aside, it certainly made financial sense for Joe to be the stay-at-home-parent. He could always go back to work in the IT field, whereas she was her own boss and her presence was crucial to keep the business going. Except, he never did go back to work . . . and while Gemma busts her rear day in and day out, sacrificing bedtimes and breakfasts and playdates with her young son Rory, Joe lives a life of quiet luxury at home. Running clubs and library visits and lemonades shared on the terrace. All without her.
When a handsome man comes into the office asking about a prospective new home in the affluent part of the city, Gemma pounces on the opportunity to bring some much-needed cash into her business. Home sales are down and money is becoming tighter and tighter, despite the long hours Gemma is putting in at work. She’s logged in 7-days a week now, constantly checking her appointments or chasing clients down via email. While Joe lazes in bed with Rory until late morning, Gemma is up with the birds, doing her best to catch the proverbial worm by showing house after house after house in an effort to make ends meet for her business and inject funds into her home accounts. It’s easy to find resentment hiding around every corner – especially if you’re looking – and its easy to feed it when her son calls out to her husband when he needs comfort . . . or when Rory pushes her aside to get to Joe, when she is looked over at story time or when a scrape on the knee draws blood and her name is not the one called out.
But after a full day of catering to the handsome man’s ambiguous designs on a new home, Gemma leaves for her own home feeling defeated. No new sale. Do not pass Go. Do not collect the $200 needed to pay the electric bill.
When the opportunity to take a conference in London comes up, Gemma is anxious for some time to herself. She’s feeling inadequate at the office and unneeded at home. Perhaps a weekend away to sharpen her real estate skills and get away from it all will be rejuvenating. Maybe it will help her see past the problems in her life. Perhaps it will tip the scales from depression to optimism.
Her first mistake : leaving the hotel room.
The lure of sounds of clinking glasses on the patio and the happy murmur of adult chatter is too hard to turn away from. Throwing on her favorite dress and freshening up her makeup, Gemma hikes it down to the hotel bar and buys herself a drink.
Her second mistake : saying yes to the dinner with a client.
When the handsome man she’d spent that entire day showing homes to curiously turns up in the hotel bar, Gemma is at first confused. But as she’s currently facing a real pickle ( an old and rather annoying acquaintance is trying to pull her into a rabbit hole of terrible conversation), Gemma latches on to her client and agrees to his dinner proposition -so long as he lets her pay (she can write it off as a business expense, of course).
Her third mistake : the wine.
She hasn’t been a drinker in years, not sense making the decision to put that part of her life and the horrors it clung to behind her. But when David suggested wine, she found it hard to refuse – especially as she didn’t want to offend him and stall a potential sale. Unsteady on her feet and anxious for her own bed, Gemma allows David to accompany her to her hotel room after he insists that its the gentlemanly thing to do. But as she struggles with the keycard, he catches her off guard, pressing his lips against hers and then . . .
. . . Gemma wakes up in her hotel room bed, barely dressed. She can’t remember what happened. The pieces of the night are slipping in and out of place like melting ice, the fragments of her memory are broken and full of dull edges. She couldn’t have done anything unsavory, could she? She’d never cheat on Joe – it was the one thing that they agreed upon when they married – no infidelities were allowed. And if she did do something and he found out, he could easily take Rory away from her, abandoning her in the country to move back to Ireland and be near his own family.
But as the days turn into weeks and a month goes by, Gemma forgets about that strange night in London. She moves on with her day-to-day job of running a business and continues the never-ending fight to get home in time to tuck Rory into bed. Life goes on. Until the day an envelope with her name handwritten on the top arrives at the office.
The first envelope contained a copy of the receipt from the hotel restaurant, clearly showing two meals were served and two bottles of wine were consumed. The second envelope contains a clear photograph of Gemma and David, locked in what appears to be a steamy embrace – if you didn’t know better. Gemma can remember stumbling with her keycard and his catching her before he planted his lips firmly against hers, but this photo could be seriously misleading if it found its way into the wrong hands.
But where are these items of potential blackmail coming from? And why? Who would have it out for Gemma so badly that they would resort to trying to destroy her marriage and her family life, and by extension, the business she’d fought so hard to build? Who would want to snatch everything out from under her? And why?
The Girl I Used to Be is the newest novel by Mary Torjussen, a British author best known for the thrilling and popular Gone Without A Trace.
I was a little bit confused by this novel, if I’m being honest. It was advertised as a thriller of the psychological persuasion, and that was not the story I ended up reading. Was there a bit of mystery? Sure. Was there some psychological warfare going on? Okay, I’ll give that one as well – if I have to. But it was so predictable that it was almost comedic in nature, and I don’t think that was the author’s intent. I was happy to read this new novel as I’ve heard very good things about the author, and I can say in all genuine fairness that I really enjoyed her style of writing. It was relatable and real, especially the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that Gemma felt as a mother constantly struggling to find balance with her work and home life while being exhausted and under-appreciated. The portrayal of resentment between husband and wife were chronicled as accurately as it could have been, and I felt a kinship with the main character that I don’t often find in thriller-type books.
But when the “mystery” portion of the plot . . . erm, unraveled, I had already been there for chapters. I knew what was coming and was not surprised in the slightest, which was disappointing obviously, especially as I was so excited to read this book. I found the second part of the novel in complete conflict with the former, especially in the fact that it was unrealistic and jumped all over the place. I guess I can understand the desire to tell the story from a second perspective, but in all actuality it was not needed, and to just begin a second perspective that didn’t really add anything pertinent to the plot seemed odd. The tone of voice for the second point of view was whiny and did not hold any consistency in respect to the emotions the character was feeling and at times was so off-putting and out of place that I was irritated.
All in all, I got through this book in less than two days. I give it a 3 out of 5 star rating, but I won’t count the author out. I enjoyed the first half of the novel and the writing style overall, I just felt the plot lacked thrill and real mystery. Everything was a bit too tidy at the end, wrapping up in a perfect bow that fell together magically. After reading psychological thrillers like The Wife Between Us and Lie With Me, my standards were left too high for this book, perhaps. I do recommend it for those who enjoy the quick “thrilling” read, just not for those who are seeking a bit of a challenge when it comes to real mystery.