Rather shockingly (and shamefully in retrospect), I had not yet read a Lisa Jewell book before this one, despite many being on my ‘to-read’ list and the fountain of positive feedback I’d heard from other reviewers. There are so many talented thriller authors currently; I find it difficult to both keep-up and catch-up! Without knowing too much about Jewell herself, nor of the plot aside from a rather gripping blurb, I decided to finally get around to a Lisa Jewell experience – and now I feel as if I’ve been seriously missing out!
Right from the first couple of pages, the plot had already won me over as I realised with a jolt of recognition that it was set in North London! Not just North London, but a stone’s throw away from where I am! The locational context of Finchley Road, Hampstead, Kilburn and Willesden Green all rather conveniently made the plot much more engaging for me, my mind instantly able to place the setting and picture the scene. Upon turning to the back page, I read that Lisa Jewell is from London and now resides in North London.
Aside from that bizarre coincidence (I swear I didn’t know!), the plot was captivating. Three lives, seemingly worlds apart, happen to coincide: a typical middle-upper-class family, complete with a doting housewife named Cate, an inattentive husband, and two teenage children; an inexplicably creepy man called Owen, whose occupations include teaching, unwittingly making others uncomfortable, and living a pitiful and lonely existence with his Aunt; and – of course – Saffyre Maddox, our Invisible Girl.
From a third-person perspective, the chapters follow one of three viewpoints: Cate, Owen, and Saffyre. In an incredibly absorbing way, these narrations are not always paralleled in terms of time-lines: Saffyre’s chapters are typically set further in the past, recounting parts of the story the reader is already familiar with, but crucially from the very different – and often revealing – stance of Saffyre; the invisible girl who sees so much without being seen herself. Particularly towards the end, this lapse in time served to dramatically heighten the excitement, and the way in which Jewell frequently ended chapters from one character’s perspective on an enormously tense cliff-hanger before seamlessly transitioning onto another character’s timeline made it simply impossible to place my bookmark between the pages and set it down.
I pride myself on a spoiler-free approach to my book reviews, so I will only say the plot was winding, carefully constructed, and beautifully executed. I loved the ending, and how the door was left slightly ajar, leaving you wondering. Some people hate that – preferring complete closure – but it kept the thrill high right until the final word, and my thoughts racing long after I’d finished reading it. Maybe a bit of me wanted more closure, but ultimately, everything I would have liked for each character, did in fact transpire – so no complaints from me!
Saffyre Maddox. What a powerful name, and one which perfectly encapsulates the essence of her character. Saffyre is powerful, having been through a lot of trauma and therapy – some of which centred around sexual assault, so if that would be triggering for you, be aware. A bold character, Saffyre’s unwavering will and striking desire for justice, her loyalty towards those she is closest with, and her wild nature, make her extremely interesting and loveable. I really connected with her character as the story progressed. Curiously, Saffyre shared similarities with the semi-tame fox that she and Cate’s son would frequently encounter outdoors: an unseen presence, she watches over the characters in the shadows, frequently at night-time, a friendly but ever-so-slightly feral nature, much like the fox.
Unsurprisingly as I really appreciated all of the characters in this book, I also loved Cate, the wife of Roan in a rather rocky and unstable marriage, fragmented a year ago when she convinced herself he was having an affair, and clumsily stitched back together again. Their home being renovated, Cate and her family find themselves moving to Hampstead, the desire for a change in one of the most picturesque residential areas of London driving the temporary relocation. With sexual assaults cropping up in the ‘safe’ neighbourhood, and looming secrets around every corner, Cate finds herself keeping a watchful eye on everyone around her… including a man across the street. The man we come to learn is Owen Pick.
Although I grasp the significance of Owen’s character and what he is meant to represent in the context of the plot, I still didn’t particularly like him. Maybe I wasn’t meant to. Indeed, while I didn’t like him, I could both sympathise with him and suspect him, which I think was the intention all along. Accused of involvement in illicit acts, Owen comes under media scrutiny: the kind of scrutiny that would ruin a man’s life, whether guilty or innocent… And the reader is left to wonder which is the case, right up until the very end. With an element of unreliable narration going on, the question of his innocence grows more suspenseful as the reader uncovers more of the truth, whether from Owen himself, or from the perspective of the other characters.
Would I recommend?
As you can probably already predict from the glowing review so far, yes – I would recommend. If you love thriller tales as much as me, you will love this one – I was absorbed from start to finish!
I’m already looking forward to reading more of Lisa Jewell’s books: the expectations were high, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Luckily, there are plenty of them to binge-read!
P.s. The book had a sneak peak of the first chapter of ‘The Night She Disappeared’ coming in August 2021 – which I will definitely be reading!