'Invisible Girl' review: Lisa Jewell's latest edge-of-your-seat thriller stands out

Mary Cadden

How well do you know your neighbors? Your friends? Even your family? How well do they know you? When it comes to others, we are often afflicted with a form of tunnel vision. Instead of seeing people as whole beings, we view them based on our preconceptions and our limited experiences. It can make for a great many misunderstandings.    

It is this form of tunnel vision that Lisa Jewell exploits brilliantly in her latest thriller, "Invisible Girl" (Atria, 368 pp., ★★★ out of four). After all, a person can be anything – a therapist, a spouse, a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger. But depending on our interactions with them, their anything can be our everything. Even if we have an intimate relationship with someone, they often still cease to exist outside of our own experiences with them. We are all guilty of it. 

"Invisible Girl," by Lisa Jewell

Jewell highlights how our views of the world and of others can often render us blind to what is truly going on around us. 

First there is Owen Pick, a lonely single man in his 30s living with his aunt, who is suspended from his job for sexual misconduct. As a result, his frustration lures him into the online subculture of Incels ("involuntary celibates"). 

Across the street there is Cate Fours and her family. Cate is a part-time physiotherapist with two teens, Georgia, 15 and Josh, 14. Husband and father Roan is a child psychologist. Cate and Roan's marriage is in a better stage after a rocky incident the year previous. 

Finally, there is Saffyre Maddox, 17, who lives nearby. A troubled young woman, Saffyre is a former patient of Roan's. And while she no longer sees him for therapy, she has not ended her relationship with him. Instead, she opts to follow and keep tabs on her therapist from a distance. 

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They are all living their lives independently of one another, or so it seems, each struggling with his or her own internal struggles. Until one night, when all of their lives drastically change. 

On Valentine's Day evening, Saffyre disappears. And this is where the story changes, in more ways than one. There has been a spate of sexual assaults in the area recently. Was Saffyre a victim herself? Assumptions turn to accusations and aspersions as the lives of Saffyre, Owen and Cate, and her family become intertwined. 

At the moment of Saffyre's disappearance, Jewell deftly changes the narrative of the novel from a steady-paced multi-narrative to one that is frenzied and nonlinear. While the storylines of most of the characters continue to progress in a forward trajectory after Saffyre's disappearance, Saffyre's timeline is reversed, focusing more intimately on the days and circumstances leading up to her disappearance. 

Author Lisa Jewell

The pace of the story picks up dramatically, pushing the reader back and forth in a crescendo of dueling dialogues that eventually meet on that fateful Valentine's night. Along the way, the characters begin to question their assumptions – not just of themselves, but their neighbors, spouses, children – and see them in a different light.  

The novel ends with a surprising twist that, depending on one's perceptions, will leave the reader either delighted or disappointed, but definitely not indifferent. You may find find yourself asking how well you know neighbors, your friends, even your family. 

How well do they know you?