Invisible Girl (2020) – Lisa Jewell

Title:Invisible Girl
Author:Lisa Jewell
Publisher/s:Century/Penguin Random House
Date published:2020
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Penguin Random House South Africa kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

“…innocent until proven guilty and all that. But people, you know, they like having someone to blame, don’t they? They like knowing who the bad person is. Who to throw the eggs at. The rocks.”

So much can happen on just one street…

Saffyre Maddox has gone missing. She is seventeen years old and was once in therapy because she used to harm herself. She went to a therapist named Roan Foars who thought he ‘fixed’ Saffyre, but he didn’t’. Years after her therapy sessions have ended Saffyre still can’t seem to let Roan go, and starts following him, and watching him from the shadows of the fancy suburban neighborhood he’s living in temporarily with his wife and kids.

When Saffyre came to Roan Foars she had a terrible secret – something very bad had happened to her when she was ten years old, and despite years of therapy she never reveals the real reason she came to start harming herself. Roan on the other hand is satisfied with his work with Saffyre and ends their sessions. He and his wife Cate, and children Josh and Georgina move into a house in a ‘posh’ neighborhood in central London whilst their own home is being renovated. The community is gated and the neighbors are not prone to friendliness. Roan seems oblivious though, as he jogs continuously through the streets, and comes home late almost every night wearing Lycra and sweat. A few years ago Cate suspected that Roan had had an affair, and she can’t seem to shake the notion that her husband might be cheating on her again. As his family attempts to make it work in the new house Roan is being watched by his former patient whose ability to make herself ‘invisible’ makes her disappearance all the more strange. Did she really disappear or is she merely hiding in plain sight?

Owen Pick lives across the road from the Foars’ with his elderly aunt who won’t allow her thirty-three year old nephew into her living room. His lonely existence takes place solely between work as a computer science teacher at a local school, and the tiny room he is allowed to inhabit. On paper Owen is the perfect suspect possibly responsible for a slew of sexually motivated attacks in the area by a person wearing a balaclava and hiding in the shadows of the unfriendly streets. He has never had a romantic relationship or sexual intercourse with anyone, and has recently been suspended from his job due to allegations of inappropriate behavior towards his female students. Now sitting at home and awaiting his fate Owen begins to research men in the same position as himself and starts to fall down a very dark rabbit hole of misogynistic males online called ‘Incels’ whose presence on the web are both ominous and downright creepy. One night he bumps into Saffyre Maddox and his fate seems sealed. Or is it?

Josh Foars likes to spend time in the abandoned construction site down the street from his new house. He goes there to smoke and to feed a wild fox. In this place where the lonesome go to mingle, Josh discovers that Saffyre Maddox has been spending nights there under the stars, and yet she claims not to be homeless. Saffyre isn’t exactly sure why but she has always felt freer outdoors, and so she walks the streets and sleeps in the abandoned lot – watching.

Cate Foars doesn’t know where her son goes at night, and she doesn’t know why her husband spends more time away from home than with their family. Then her daughter’s friend is attacked not far from their home, and the fear that her son and husband might be guilty of something really terrible becomes too apparent to ignore.

Lisa Jewell’s characters are always a fascinating box of mismatched puzzle pieces, and Invisible Girl uses the multiple points-of-view to create a far-reaching map of the secrets kept behind the closed doors and drawn curtains of the suburbs. From the first moment we meet Saffyre and all of the people that might possibly be responsible for her disappearance, it becomes clear that much like the public opinion in the novel, we too as readers must make a choice. Are we to make quick judgements based on the innate desire to blame someone, or will we consider the notion that not everyone is either completely innocent or completely guilty? Sometimes that which sits in the in-between holds more secrets than that which stares us right in the face.

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