“I absolutely loved Invisible Girl—Lisa Jewell has a way of combining furiously twisty, utterly gripping plots with wonderfully rich characterization—she has such compassion for her characters, and we feel we know them utterly… A triumph!” —Lucy Foley, New York Times bestselling author
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone returns with an intricate thriller about a young woman’s disappearance and a group of strangers whose lives intersect in its wake.
Young Saffyre Maddox spent three years under the care of renowned child psychologist Roan Fours. When Dr. Fours decides their sessions should end, Saffyre feels abandoned. She begins looking for ways to connect with him, from waiting outside his office to walking through his neighborhood late at night. She soon learns more than she ever wanted to about Roan and his deceptively perfect family life. On a chilly Valentine’s night, Saffyre will disappear, taking any secrets she has learned with her.
Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct—accusations he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets a charismatic and mysterious figure.
Owen lives across the street from the Fours family. The Fours have a bad feeling about their neighbor; Owen is a bit creepy and suspect and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night. Could Owen be responsible? What happened to the beautiful missing Saffyre, and does her disappearance truly connect them all?
Evocative, vivid, and unputdownable, Lisa Jewell’s latest thriller is another “haunting, atmospheric, stay-up-way-too-late read” (Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author).
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Saffyre
MY NAME IS Saffyre Maddox. I am seventeen years old.
I am mostly Welsh on my dad’s side and partly Trinidadian, partly Malaysian, and a tiny bit French from my mum. Sometimes people try to guess my heritage, but they always end up getting it wrong. If anyone asks I just say that I am a mixed bag and leave it at that. No reason for anyone to know who slept with who, you know. It’s my business really, isn’t it?
I’m in my first year of sixth form at a school in Chalk Farm, where I’m doing maths, physics, and biology because I’m a bit of a nerd. I don’t really know what I want to do when I leave school; everyone expects me to go to university, but sometimes I think I’d just like to go and work in a zoo, maybe, or a dog groomer’s.
I live in a two-bedroom flat on the eighth floor of a tower on Alfred Road, right opposite a school I don’t go to, because they hadn’t actually built it when I started secondary.
My grandma died shortly before I was born, my mum died shortly afterward, my dad didn’t want to know, and my granddad died a few months ago. So I live alone with my uncle.
He’s only ten years older than me, and his name is Aaron. He looks after me like a father. He works at a betting shop, nine to five, and does people’s gardens on the weekends. He’s probably the best human being in the world. I have another uncle, Lee, who lives in Essex with his wife and two tiny daughters. So there are finally some girls in the family, but it’s a bit late for me now.
I grew up with two men, and, as a result, I’m not that great with girls. Or, more accurately, I’m better with boys. I used to hang out with the boys when I was a kid and got called a tomboy, which I don’t think I ever was. But then I started to change and became “pretty” (and I do not think I’m pretty; I just know that everyone I meet tells me that I am), and boys stopped wanting to hang out as a mate and got all weird around me, and I could tell that I’d be better off if I could harvest some girls. So I harvested some girls, and we’re not close—don’t reckon I’ll ever see any of them again once I’ve left school—but we get on OK just as something to do. We’ve all known each other a long, long time now. It’s easy.
So that’s the bare outline of me. I’m not a happy, happy kind of person. I don’t have a big laugh, and I don’t do that hugging thing that the other girls like to do. I have boring hobbies: I like to read, and I like to cook. I’m not big on going out. I like a bit of rum with my uncle on a Friday night while we’re watching TV, but I don’t smoke weed or take drugs or anything like that. It’s amazing how boring you can get away with being when you’re pretty. No one seems to notice. When you’re pretty everyone just assumes you must have a great life. People are so short-sighted, sometimes. People are so stupid.
I have a dark past, and I have dark thoughts. I do dark things, and I scare myself sometimes. I wake in the middle of the night, and I’ve twisted myself into my bedsheets. Before I go to sleep, I tuck my bedsheet under the mattress, really hard, really firm, so the sheet is taut enough to bounce a coin off. The next morning all four corners are free; my sheet and I are entwined. I don’t remember what happened. I don’t remember my dreams. I don’t feel rested.
When I was ten years old something really, really bad happened to me. Let’s maybe not get into that too deep. But yes, I was a little girl, and it was a big bad thing that no little girl should have to experience, and it changed me. I started to hurt myself, on my ankles, inside my ankle socks, so no one would see the scratches. I knew what self-harming was—everyone knows these days—but I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just knew that it stopped me thinking too hard about other things in my life.
Then when I was about twelve my uncle Aaron saw the scratches and the scars, put two and two together, and took me to my GP, who referred me to the Portman Children’s Centre for therapy.
I was sent to a man called Roan Fours.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Invisible Girl includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The author of the “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) The Family Upstairs returns with another taut and white-knuckled thriller following a group of people whose lives shockingly intersect when a young woman disappears.
Owen Pick’s life is falling apart.
In his thirties, a virgin, and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a computer science teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct, which he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel—involuntary celibate—forums, where he meets the charismatic, mysterious, and sinister Bryn.
Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy, and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.
Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre Maddox disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.
With evocative, vivid, and unputdownable prose and plenty of disturbing twists and turns, Jewell’s latest thriller is another “haunting, atmospheric, stay-up-way-too-late read” (Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author).
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Invisible Girl is told from three perspectives: Saffyre, Cate, and Owen. Was there one character in particular whose point of view you were intrigued by? How might you have felt about these characters had you not been provided with a first-person account of their lives? Why do you think Lisa Jewell structured her novel this way, and chose these people specifically to focus on?
2. We are first introduced to the character of Owen through the Fours’ daughter Georgia, who describes him as “creepy” (page 7), and later says he looks “totally rapey” (page 28), despite never having interacted with him. We only hear from Owen himself nearly sixty pages into the novel, at which point he has already been called “creepy” three times. What did you think of Owen after actually having met him? As the novel unfolded, what descriptive details about him did you feel fit the stereotypically “creepy” bill? Do you think that Georgia’s first reaction was justified?
3. One theme of the book is the role that childhood trauma plays out in teenage and adult lives. In what ways have Saffyre’s assault and Owen’s abandonment influenced their current behavior and interpersonal relationships? How do they each confront and work through the lasting psychological effects over the course of the novel?
4. Invisible Girl takes place in a quiet, posh neighborhood occupied by mostly large, security-gated houses. One standout location is the empty plot of land where a house has been torn down and never rebuilt—what Cate calls a “dark, private void” (page 9). For Cate, it represents potential lurking danger and the unknown; for Saffyre, it represents freedom; for Josh, friendship. Compare and contrast these characters’ ideas of this in-between space and the neighborhood in general. Where do their feelings stem from? How might age, gender, and other life circumstances affect this? Why do you think the author chose this setting? How does it move the plot along?
5. Invisible Girl is filled with complicated familial and romantic relationships. When asked by Roan to describe what love feels like, Saffyre identifies two different kinds: one that involves need (“It feels like need. . . . Like you love someone because they give you what you need” (page 49), and one that does not, and is “pure.” Using this dichotomy, can you identify the different types of love that appear in this novel? Do both parties seem to be in agreement about the nature of their relationship?
6. Appearance—whether in the sense of physical attractiveness or more general presentation—is a big theme in Invisible Girl, but the way that it applies to men and women is different. Saffyre says, “When you’re pretty everyone just assumes you must have a great life” (page 4). Owen obsessively categorizes women as good-looking or not and shapes his interactions accordingly, often paralyzed by “extreme female beauty” (page 107). Are there any instances of men being evaluated or interacted with in the same way? What is it that’s so enticing or dangerous about the idea of a beautiful, carefree woman in the context of the novel?
7. While most people find sanctity in their own homes, Saffyre is very connected to the outdoors: “I needed the air on my skin. I needed trees and soil and damp and moonlight and daylight and sun and wind and pigeons and foxes. It was like I was becoming feral” (page 168). She later says, “By night I was a kind of nocturnal animal, like the human equivalent of a fox” (page 264). What does it mean to Saffyre to become feral, beyond sleeping outside? What is it that draws her to the fox, specifically?
8. Though the title of this novel refers to Saffyre, many different characters experience both invisibility and anonymity. For Saffyre, being invisible provides a respite from the eyes of her classmates, a kind of safety. Cate feels entirely unseen by Roan, free of having to reconstruct her marriage, but ignored. Owen feels forgotten. Bryn hides behind relative anonymity on incel platforms. Is there a difference between invisibility and anonymity? How might these states be viewed as positive or negative? How did each character’s perspective on the idea of invisibility or anonymity help you understand them and their motivations?
9. Cate, as seen through Owen and Saffyre’s eyes, is little more than a betrayed housewife. Owen wonders, “What do women like this think about . . . when it’s just them, and the kids are in bed, and they’ve got one of those gigantic fishbowls of wine in their hands? What are they when they’re not at the gym or collecting their children from school? Where do they exist on the scale of humanity? He cannot imagine” (page 64). Saffyre, upon learning of Roan’s cheating, has a similar train of thought: “What happens to a woman like that with a pretend job and children just about to leave home? Where would Cate Fours end up?” (page 124) Though one of these inquiries is more steeped in sexism, together they raise questions about Cate’s autonomy. How does Cate ultimately end up taking control of her life and regaining what she calls the “moral high ground” in light of Roan’s infidelity? Do you think she defies the well-worn stereotype? Do you think hers could be considered a heroine arc?
10. Though there are references to Roan slipping away and being unreachable for suspicious hours at the beginning of Invisible Girl, he is not more directly suggested to be involved in the assaults until later in the novel. What about Roan’s character made these initial hints seem negligible? Were you surprised by the anger and condescension he displayed when Cate first asked him about Saffyre’s time in his care? How would you compare his sudden outbursts and rage to Owen’s? How does their disrespect for women manifest in each man’s behavior? Why do you think Owen is featured more prominently, and is given a first-person voice, whereas Roan is not?
11. Cate treats her son and daughter differently when it comes to matters of safety and privacy; “for some reason her son’s privacy seems more sacred, more fragile than her daughter’s” (page 117). While she talks frankly about the potential that Georgia could be violated, she feels so removed from Josh’s inner life that at one point she fears that he has been the neighborhood perpetrator all along. How do you think we should change the way we parent by gender, especially in adolescence? Are there conversations that should be had separately with teenagers of different genders, or should everyone be presented with the same information?
12. Do you think that Invisible Girl takes a firm stance on whom we as a society might owe a second chance at fair judgment? What do you think keeps Owen from being fully sucked into the incel community and becoming a Bryn-like figure, who concludes the book as a declared terrorist threat? By the novel’s end, how did you feel about each of the characters we have watched flounder morally?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. One of the biggest news stories about incels in recent memory is Alice Hines’ feature in The Cut, “How Many Bones Would You Break to Get Laid?” [https://www.thecut.com/2019/05/incel-plastic-surgery.html] Read the article and discuss what you’ve learned about the incel community. Do you feel that you understand Owen and Bryn more or less after having read this piece?
2. One of Lisa Jewell’s latest novels, The Family Upstairs, centers around a cult-like group of people living in one house. Compare and contrast the leader, David, with the characters of Bryn and Roan from Invisible Girl. What about their power and mystique is fabricated? What is real?
3. Consider donating to or volunteering with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti–sexual violence organization.