Before the Ruins: A Novel

Image of Before the Ruins: A Novel
Release Date: 
November 17, 2020
Henry Holt and Co.
Reviewed by: 

“wonderfully sophisticated and beautifully conceived . . .”

That summer, there were four of them, all on the cusp of adulthood: Andy, her boyfriend Marcus, her best friend Peter, and Em, whiling away the hours in a deserted manor house with a rich, sordid history. Sorely without the ambition and opportunities that her friends have always counted on, Andy finds herself terrified of a future that will take them all down very different paths. Her newfound fears make her reckless, resulting in increasingly destructive behavior.

Then David shows up. Magnetic, worldly, and on the run from the police, David presents an irresistible lure for both Andy and Peter, pitting the two lifelong friends against each other for the first time. When the group learns that a diamond necklace, stolen 50 years ago, might still be somewhere on the manor grounds, the Game—half treasure hunt, half friendly deception—begins. But the Game becomes much bigger than the necklace, growing to encompass years of secrets, lies, and, ultimately, one terrible betrayal.

Decades later, Andy and Peter struggle to maintain their friendship, meeting only to drink to the past and trying not to talk about what happened at the manor. But when Peter goes missing, Andy is thrust back to that summer—with all of its frantic energy, yearning, and loss—and the mysteries that still haven’t been solved.

Before the Ruins is the debut novel by Victoria Gosling. She is the founder of The Reader Berlin and The Berlin Writing Prize. Alongside directing The Reader’s day-to-day activities, she also works as a freelance editor, writer, and consultant and is a former contributing editor of Berlin Stories for NPR.

“The whole afternoon lay ahead . . . the sky would stay its clear, glassy blue, the shadows would creep feline over the grass . . . And in my dream, I knew exactly which day it was . . . The day the four of us went to the manor house . . . Just before we found out about the diamonds.”

In this wonderfully sophisticated and beautifully conceived novel, the exceptionally talented Gosling does what many new authors cant: She skillfully navigates several interconnecting timelines in an already multifaceted and complex story. This can be problematic for even the most successful and seasoned novelists, but Gosling handles this obstacle with a unique and clever touch that is quite refreshing.

In its simplest form, Before the Ruins is a tale about an old manor house, betrayal, a game, but in reality it’s fundamentally a story about how early childhood memories have a profound impact on future love and friendships. And although the plotline seems on the surface to lean on cliché and familiar literary images, the narrative overcomes these formulaic weaknesses with a sophisticated tale of devotion and loss, and the power of, and corruption of memory that is compelling and poignant.

Overall, Before the Ruins retains an air of originality that is missing from many current novels, and Gosling most certainly intended to overlap genres that include coming of age, mystery, and contemplative observational examination. She stealthily avoids the trickery of imitation and generalization, producing a captivating and thought-provoking novel that allows the reader to ponder the frailties and weaknesses that are ever-present and inherent in our human nature.