Hello, everyone! I devoured Lisa Jewell’s latest thriller Invisible Girl in one day and I’m here to spread the gospel. If you’re looking for a thriller that is as unsettling as it is exciting, Jewell’s your woman. Invisible Girl is just another stellar entry in her œuvre that will keep your eyes glued to the page while the world shuffles on by.
Synopsis: Owen Pick has never fit in. Still a virgin in his 30s, and living with his disapproving aunt in the Hampstead neighborhood of London, Owen feels that the world has truly turned against him, especially when he’s suspended from his college lecturing job during a sexual harassment investigation. On the other side of the street lives the Fours family. Cate and her therapist husband Roan have been on the rocks ever since Cate suspected him of having an affair years earlier with his teen patient, a girl named Saffyre Maddox. When Saffyre disappears on Valentine’s Day, and Owen is the last person to have seen her, he immediately falls under suspicion. But even though Owen seems like the obvious suspect, Cate worries that there is something more sinister happening in Hampstead, and starts to grow suspicious about the people she trusts the most.
My thoughts: Every author has their beat, and Lisa Jewell’s is London, and the secrets that hide in the closets of seemingly perfect upper-class families. Jewell likes to play with our expectations and use our preconceived biases against us. In Invisible Girl, she pits Cate and Roan Fours, a respectable married couple with some relatable baggage, against Owen Pick, an awkward loner whose lack of dating success has pushed him towards online incel forums. Between the two sides lies Saffyre, a teen with a traumatic past. When she goes missing, Jewell indulges in investigating the reader’s knee-jerk reaction and pushes the story towards Owen. Could his fragmentary blackouts and complicated history with women make him the perfect culprit? For much of the book, that’s how it seems. But it wouldn’t be a Lisa Jewell novel if there wasn’t a twist.
The novel is split into three perspectives: Owen’s, Cate’s, and Sapphyre’s. Like any good thriller, their perspectives each represent only a fragment of the truth, and trying to sort through each character’s biases, tunnel vision, and lack of knowledge keeps the reader on their toes. I appreciated how Jewell prevented her characters from falling into any stereotypical traps. Instead of writing Sapphyre off as a troubled teen, Jewell imbues her with introspection and nuance. Instead of exiling Owen to the land of undesirable socially awkward men, she asks the reader to sympathize with Owen’s faults and not jump to conclusions about his behavior. And instead of dooming Cate to the role of nagging housewife, she gives Cate’s thoughts the weight they deserve.
One interesting aspect of the novel is how it focuses on the tension between men’s behavior and the way that behavior is viewed by the people around them. Owen, for instance, is plagued throughout the novel by allegations that his behavior makes the women around him uncomfortable. To Owen, however, these women are misinterpreting his inherent social awkwardness as creepiness when in reality he is just trying to be himself. In one scene, Owen bumps into a woman who’s too distracted by her phone to pay attention to where she’s walking. When Owen asks her to watch where she’s going, the woman calls him a creep, and Owen in turn calls her a “bitch.” But when Owen is arrested for Sapphyre’s disappearance, this interaction comes back to haunt him, as the police say that the women told them that Owen was threatening and intimidating. Although such an interaction is indicative of a “he said-she said,” it shows how perspective, assumptions, and biases can cloud even the most mundane of events. As a novel written during the #MeToo movement, Jewell could have made Owen an easy villain, but instead she takes the time to examine the nuances of opposite-sex interactions, and pushes the reader away from viewing these incidences in black and white terms.
Additionally, Jewell spends a significant part of the novel exploring police bias, especially when it comes to people who seem like the “perfect” suspect. As a genre, crime thrillers are heavily pro-police, and if the police mess up, it’s usually because of one bad apple, rather than institutional flaws. Invisible Girl presents a more common, and more horrifying situation, in which the police arrest a person because they seem strange, and not because they have evidence tying the suspect to the victim. There have been many real cases where outcasts were charged with crimes not because of physical evidence, but because they didn’t act the way the police or the community expected them to behave. While Invisible Girl doesn’t explicitly condemn this police tunnel vision, it does show how quickly a narrative can spiral out of control when the police latch onto one theory, and how devastating the consequences can be for the wrongly accused.
Unlike the other two Jewell books I’ve read, Invisible Girl isn’t particularly violent or gory. Instead, the fear lies in Jewell’s dismantling of the familiar. She places a spree of sexual assaults in a supposedly idyllic upper-class London neighborhood. The main suspect, Owen Pick, is the “guy nextdoor,” whose unorthodox behavior lies at odds with his nice clothes, good job, and unsuspecting appearance. And the family at the center of the story, the Fours, is perfect on the outside, but inwardly falling apart at the seams. Everyone thinks they know the people that they’re closest to, but what if they don’t? Perhaps the scariest person is not the stranger who follows you in the night, but the one that awaits you at home.
Final thoughts: Invisible Girl is a breezy thriller that will pique your attention early and keep you hooked until the final page. It’s a novel that relies more on psychological horror than violence and gore, which is a refreshing change from Jewell’s other works. Additionally, Jewell offers a fresh take on incel culture, #MeToo, and implicit bias, all without coming off as preachy. Overall, it’s an absorbing thriller for a day at the beach or a long weekend, depending on how much time you like to spend with skeletons in closets.