Exploring wealth and female friendships, E. Lockhart has followed up her acclaimed novel, We Were Liars, with Genuine Fraud. A relatively small novel (my copy was only just over 250 pages), it tells the stories of Imogen and Jule, two orphans who are closest of friends “Obsessed with each other, even,” the back cover of the novel stipulates. Imogen Sokoloff, or Immie, is a wealthy heiress from the Northeast coast struggling with her family and societal pressures. Jule West Williams is a young woman with a hidden past and a need for a fresh start.
The structure of the novel is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the book. It’s told in near retrograde chronological order. The reader begins with Jule on the run, staying at a luxurious resort and pretending to be Imogen. From there, the story flows backward in time (even the chapter numbers run in reverse order starting at 18), unraveling how Jule came to be where she is. This can be jarring or distracting at times, but it’s not without purpose, which is to represent the fragmented state of Jule herself. That is, Jule is struggling between her secrets and lies, her actual past and her imagination, and the different facets of her identity. This is made even clearer through the third-person narrator, which has expertly been made unreliable in order to increase the suspense and show Jule’s unreliable perspective.
Although it’s been labeled a thriller, I would call Genuine Fraud a mystery or character study more than anything else. Because of the layout of the novel, the reader isn’t on the edge of his or her seat to find out what will happen, because the majority of the action has already taken place by the first chapter. Instead, the reader is hooked by the desire to find out what has happened and why (a pseudo whodunnit if you will). Moreover, he or she wants to learn more about Jule, who truly makes the novel remarkable. Without spoiling anything, Jule is complex, unlikable, and extremely rooted in the world today, and Lockhart writes her excellently. She is a result of male power narratives, a sexist society, and economic inequality. Through her, Lockhart asks what feminism is and what a hero storyline is; for example, what makes Jule’s actions unacceptable and James Bond’s actions revered? Is a heroine just a woman who does everything a male protagonist would do?
However, Lockhart does not fully complete much of this character exploration, allowing problematic behavior to go unaddressed and character arcs to be left half-finished. Furthermore, she includes antiquated tropes like queerbaiting and bury-your-gays, and her thoughts on feminism are relegated to that of wealthy white women, which goes against the feminism the novel seems to be trying to champion. Of course, because of the closeness of the narrator and Jule, it could be argued that that is an intentional demonstration of Jule’s flawed feminism.
Genuine Fraud is a complicated novel both layout-wise and thematically, hyper-focused on an equally complicated character. However, it’s skillfully written and certainly worth the read for the character work alone. Additionally, it will certainly provoke many thoughts in its reader about modern society and how people form relationships with one another. I especially recommend it to those who enjoy detective series or simply want a colder, darker novel to match the chilly winter weather outside.