#InvisibleGirl #LisaJewell #bookbloggers
Lisa Jewell is another favourite thriller writer of mine. I know with her books I’m going to get that addictive, dark and ‘unputdownable’ novel I’ve been craving for solid weekend of reading. In actuality I finished this in five hours straight. I don’t know if it’s because I am a counsellor, but I love it when psychological professionals are depicted in novels – I instantly know I’m getting one of two things; a great counsellor with a messy personal life or a creepy manipulator who isn’t what they seem. In this case I got both, plus plenty of other complex characters to get my teeth into it.
The central relationship of this novel is that between child psychologist Roan Fore and his previous patient Saffyre Maddox. Saffyre has lost both parents and lives in a London tower block with her uncle Aaron. They spend three years as doctor and patient until she’s made so much progress it’s time for Roan to discharge her. Yet Saffyre doesn’t feel fixed. She has simply learned to wear masks. She’s studied the girls at school and now knows how to be an ordinary girl, she has a bunch of friends and at home seems the content family member. Once her grandfather dies, it soon becomes clear that no one knows or sees the true Saffyre. She’s become invisible.
Another narrator is physiotherapist and mother Cate. Cate probably appears to have everything. A long marriage to a fellow professional, two teenage children and an apartment in a huge mansion house until the renovations are completed on the family home in Kilburn. For now she’s getting used to her new flat, and life in Hampstead village. However, it’s not long before the novelty of life in this new neighbourhood wears off, when one of her daughter’s friends is sexually assaulted on her way home. This is not the first incident either. Could it be that the attacker is hiding on the building plot next door, which has seen very little activity apart from one JCB placed on site. The foxes are more active and can be heard screaming at night. Cate wants to keep her children safe, asking her teenage daughter Georgia to be careful coming home, especially at dusk onwards. Her son, Josh, is younger but is becoming increasingly difficult to pin down. She doesn’t always know where he’s been and who with, but can’t bring herself to imagine her kind, tender boy doing any harm. Cate’s husband is running, at all different hours and sometimes for whole afternoons. Should she be worried about where he is? That is aside from the affair she’d convinced herself was happening this time last year.
Our last narrator is Owen, a young, single man lodging with his aunt Tess down the road. Cate hates to generalise but he is the archetypal sexual predator. In his thirties, but with no relationship and seems like a bit of a loner. In fact the truth is even more worrying as we learn that Owen works at the local college and has been suspended for sexual harassment. Having turned down a course on creating a safer workplace, Owen decides to quit but now he has even more time on his hands. He finds himself drawn into the murky world of ‘incel’ websites – a group of men who are termed involuntary celibates because women won’t sleep with them. He makes contact with one charismatic leader within the movement and they meet for a drink, but Owen finds his extreme ideas frightening. He believes in enforced impregnation, to get past this conspiracy barring men like them from having a sex life or their own families. Worryingly, and without being asked, he gives Owen a bottle of rohypnol. Mortified, Owen takes them but hides them in his drawers at home. Put off by the incel extremists, Owen decides instead to join Tinder and ends up on a date with a woman on Valentine’s Day. Little does he know that the events of that evening will become very important and may impact the rest of his life.
I liked the way Lisa Jewell takes us inside these characters while also letting us know how others see them. Cate sees Owen as an odd character who seems to stare and appears awkward around women. Saffyre sees Cate as the blonde skinny wife, with a life that revolves around her husband and children. Owen notices Saffyre hanging around the building plot and watching Cate’s family. All these disparate threads come together when Saffyre is reported missing. The author makes points about our biases in the case of Owen. When questioned by the police Cate mentions him as someone who’s odd, who watches people and suggests they question him. It made me think of the case of the 2010 case of Joanna Yeates who went missing in her home town of Bristol. The police took her landlord, Christopher Jeffries, in for questioning and his face was plastered all over the nation’s press. Even when released from questioning there were those that still found Jeffries suspicious. His only crime it seemed was to look a bit odd and unkempt and be described as a loner. Jeffries won substantial libel damages. On the other hand, is someone has the air of respectability through their profession or financial position they can get away with murder under our noses.
Saffyre is an interesting character and although I didn’t fully understand the reasons for her choice to live outdoors – I like my comforts – I can see how the flat becomes claustrophobic for her. Eight storeys up and the heat from all the surrounding flats becomes stifling. I wondered if it was a type of grounding she was seeking? I understand that. I have a need to feel the earth with my bare feet, particularly one specific piece of earth have almost always lived next to since I born. I was born on a farm across the road from the River Trent, and although I’m moving further south on that river as the years go by, I still take off my shoes and stand bare foot on the river bank. It’s like a communion with the river and it’s boundaries – a way of letting it and me know I am home. For Saffyre it’s the stars, the being able to wrap up warm while feeling cold nip your face, the quiet communion with a visiting fox, the feeling that perhaps, like the fox, she is wild. Inside there are many things she has to face, like the loss that surrounds her, the self harm, and the terrible thing a boy at school did when she was much younger. Outside she’s free from these things and it is no coincidence that outside is where she first trusts someone enough to share those painful experiences. She’s incredibly perceptive for her age and is the only one to realise that Cate’s life is largely dependent on one man, and Saffyre is perfectly placed to see the potential for future pain in that choice.
Lisa Jewell is great at throwing red herrings into the plot and I didn’t recognise all of them, happy to go where the story took me rather than furiously trying to work it all out. I knew which way I wanted the plot to go and I was largely rewarded, with just one surprise for good measure. I always want to ask authors whether they know how their novels will resolve, which way each character will go and who will take the blame. I’m sure I’d get a variety of different answers. I do give my heart away to characters and I was desperately hoping Joshua wasn’t involved the sex attacks in the area, because I wanted him to be the sweet, kind boy I had built him up to be. What a story like this one tells us is that we are all a couple of decisions away from a completely different life. Georgia could walk out one night and meet the attacker. Owen could take his date rape drugs on his Valentine’s date. Cate could have left Roan years before when he cheated on her and promised to never do the same again. It made me think of the parallel lives we could have, if we just changed our minds. From a therapist’s standpoint it made me think a lot about fitness to practice and how we make the choice to see or not see a client. How we decide when to end therapy. Mainly, I wondered how we can be expected to help other people find their broken pieces if our own life is falling apart, and what impact that knowledge has on a young client like Saffyre. The novel felt timely, thoughtful and a great weekend read.