Title: Genuine Fraud (2017)
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Read: 1st – 2nd June 2018
Genre: young-adult; mystery
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three. Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.”
(Synopsis from the publisher)
As you may be able to glean from the synopsis of this book, Genuine Fraud really is a book best approached knowing next to nothing about the story within – many of E. Lockhart’s books are best experienced with this level of wilful ignorance, and I’d agree this is certainly the case with Genuine Fraud. I will therefore try my very best in the subsequent review to not spoil anything regarding this book that hasn’t been covered anyway by the synopsis or press surrounding it.
“The presentation of self in everyday life. This guy Goffman had the idea that in different situations, you perform yourself differently. Your character isn’t static. It’s an adaptation.”
Genuine Fraud concerns itself with Jule West Williams, a young woman who we first meet seemingly living the high life (of sorts) in a hotel in Baja, though we first “see her” exercising on the treadmill of the hotel she’s staying in, and subsequently befriending a woman on the treadmill beside hers. During this short conversation between two strangers, we are introduced to Jule’s life story – or, rather, the life story she tells people. We learn she runs without listening to music, she speaks in “BBC English”, she loves Dickens… and she introduces herself as Imogen. So begins the theme of the book – from the very beginning (indeed even in the oxymoronic nature of the title) we are taught, as readers, to be wary of what front Jule presents to the world, to her friends, and even to herself. From the very first paragraph readers get the impression that a) nothing Jule says can be taken as gospel truth, and b) she plays at being Jule just as much as the other identities she tries on over the course of the story.
“The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.”
The story is told in reverse order, a tactic which, I’ll admit, at first I thought was a mere gimmick. However, I should have had more faith in the author and trust that it was necessary, and it was. Every chapter helps to peel back another layer to get to the root, the starting point I suppose, of how Jule ends up in the situation which we, as readers, first find her – falsely going by the name Imogen and seemingly on the run in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico but, for what reason, we aren’t told. The effect of reading a story in reverse is a little jarring at first, but it only took me a few chapters to really get into this method of storytelling and to fully embrace the concept of doing so. In fact, I don’t think that the mystery and suspense of the novel would have been anywhere near as compelling or immersive if it had been told in a more traditional linear narrative form.
“the way you speak is often more important than anything you have to say”
It has to be said that, in my opinion at least, it’s very unlikely that you will come away from any E. Lockhart authored story being particularly endeared to her characters. The characters she presents are far from perfect protagonists or wily villains, they’re complex, deeply flawed, and abstractly painted. I often feel there’s a slightly “hazy” and otherworldly quality to anything Lockhart writes, regardless of how fantastical or mundane the story itself actually is. Often, you can’t quite grasp the core reality of the characters or situations she weaves into her stories, like the entire thing has a filmy, heat haze settling over all its scenes, and it makes for a very atmospheric and compelling read. As we follow Jule back through the story, and see her interacting with her friends (and “friends”), we aren’t given a more concrete reality of Jule but, rather, the reader is allowed to make their own mind up about just how much of Jule’s story is real and how much is fake. Likewise, we can never be quite sure just how Jule feels about any of her story – to make readers feel like they simultaneously know and not know a character is quite a masterful skill, and one which E. Lockhart seems to prove she has time and time again.
“the best way to avoid having your heart broken was to pretend you don’t have one.”
In conclusion, I have to say E. Lockhart has done it again – she has produced a story with utterly unlikable characters that, nevertheless, I find myself strangely endeared towards to the point that I immerse myself in their stories and practically inhale the book I’m given. Although The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks will probably always remain my favourite of her books because of its campus setting, Genuine Fraud certainly gives it a run for its money with its twists and turns, Patricia Highsmith-esque tone, and its interrogation of performing identity and reinvention of the self.
“If only she could go back in time, Jule felt, she would be a better person. Or a different person. She would be more herself. Or maybe less herself.”