REVIEW: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart


Genuine Fraud
by E. Lockhart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Length: 264 pages

Release date: 5 September 2017

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The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

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.

Genuine Fraud shows abundant potential to become a twisty, top-notch thriller, but a muddled timeline and contrived plot prove to be its Achilles’ Heel. It’s for sure an enjoyable read with its own little quirks, but for a book hyped as a suspense masterpiece, there’s never quite enough mysteriousness to the heroine or her environment.

There are two elephants in the room that need to be addressed when it comes to Lockhart’s story. First, the reverse chronological narrative–the book begins on Chapter 18 and counts back until the penultimate Chapter 1, before finally looping back to Chapter 19 to resolve the opening cliffhanger. I give the author a lot of respect for trying out such a risky storytelling device. I’m a reader who easily loses interest when non-linear timelines create too much confusion to be worth untangling, so it says a lot that I burned through Genuine Fraud over the course of two days. Flashbacks and unreliable narration that deceives through omission mean that details are revealed as we wind backwards in time, instead of being all laid out on the table from the start (or the end, depending on how you want to look at it). One weakness of the structure is that major plot points are rather easily guessed, since we already see what happens afterwards in the previous chapter. But my main gripe with the reverse chronology is that it feels like one masterfully executed, ornately dressed-up gimmick to conceal the plot’s lack of substance.

Which leads us to the next elephant in the room: the uncomfortable resemblance to The Talented Mr. Ripley. I haven’t read Ripley or watched the movie before, but all it takes is a quick perusal of the Wikipedia plot summary to realise that there’s an uncanny similarity. Naturally, don’t click on that link if you haven’t yet read Genuine Fraud and don’t want spoilers, because we’re not talking “homage” levels of likeness here. We’re talking about the same level of resemblance as that between Fifty Shades and Twilight. In other words, characters from Genuine Fraud obviously match up to their TTMR counterparts, and pivotal plot points are ripped straight from the latter work. To her credit, Lockhart does acknowledge The Talented Mr. Ripley as a major source of inspiration, but that’s not entirely accurate–Genuine Fraud wasn’t inspired by TTMR so much as a gender-swapped, modernised fanfiction rewrite.

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To be fair, this didn’t impact my reading experience the way it did other reviewers’, as I was unfamiliar with TTMR to begin with. As such, I’ll evaluate Jule, Imogen, Forrest, Brooke and all the rest on their own merits rather than as repackaged clones. There are no heroes here–there’s a protagonist, a deuteragonist and quite a few antagonists, but none of them are “good people”, and I’d even venture as far as to say that very few if any of them are decent people. This book takes you into the messed-up, violent, taboo sides of its ensemble cast–everyone has lethal secrets, and no one is safe. It toys with your preconceived expectations of who’s in the right and who’s lying, setting you up to believe one scenario then tearing it apart a few chapters later. Jule, the main character and sole (punishingly unreliable) narrator, is a chameleon of lies upon lies upon lies. She’s not afraid to steal, fight, ruin and do worse to the people who knowingly or unknowingly cross her. She’s dangerous, powerful, ambitious, and she knows it.

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I didn’t really like Imogen, Forrest, or Brooke. They were all entitled in their different ways and possibly underdeveloped–Brooke, in particular, never feels like much more than an outline of a character, like there’s a lot more under the surface that we never quite get to see. It makes sense, in a way, because this is Jule’s story and Jule couldn’t care less about empathising with others, but it still seems like a missed opportunity. Paolo I found to be a dull placeholder–I don’t know what Jule sees in him that makes her regard him any differently from the five or six pawns she remorselessly manipulates throughout the novel. He could have been cut entirely with very few implications.

Overall, Genuine Fraud is a decent novel, more so if you aren’t familiar with The Talented Mr. Ripley. It may not deliver all that it promises to, but the drama, schemes and murder that it does provide are assuredly more than enough.

*Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

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