Book Review: ‘Genuine Fraud’ confuses with backward plot


Graphic by Eilla Reid

“Genuine Fraud” is E. Lockhart’s most recent novel.

Natalie Brink, News Editor

E. Lockhart is a master of mystery, her books being short enough to finish in a single sitting but long enough to tantalize you the whole way through. “Genuine Fraud” definitely fits into the tantalizing category, but its overly complex plot can discourage readers from finishing it at all.

The book begins at its end, with a young woman, Jule, who lives at a Mexican resort and calls herself Imogen, which is actually the name of her insanely rich friend. A detective traps her in a dingy motel, but instead of learning what happens just yet, the story, is told from end to beginning, goes back in time. In the next chapter, Jule is in Las Vegas, conning people out of their IDs and their wallets. The chapter after that, she’s in London a couple weeks earlier, living in Imogen’s London apartment. The plot continues in reverse, leaving the reader wondering: Where is Imogen? And who is Jule, really?

Lockhart’s plot, told in reverse chronological order, can confuse the reader. It is a headache to understand Jule’s relationships and how they developed when the reader is introduced to the relationships as they end. It’s not especially helpful that Jule has several flashbacks even further back in time to a summer spent with Imogen in Martha’s Vineyard that remains without context until the very end of the book. Trying to keep the timelines in chronological order sometimes feels like more trouble than it’s worth, but the result is a slow revealing of Jule’s true nature. Instead of immediately understanding Jule’s motivations for interacting with someone, the audience reads about seemingly meaningful bonds the rest of the book spends time slowly unraveling to their sickening cores.

This novel sends its readers all around the world, and Lockhart does a fantastic job bringing every city to life using only her words. From the fog-cloaked hills of San Francisco to the neon lights leeching onto the streets of Las Vegas and even the pristine waters off Puerto Rico, Lockhart changes her setting with ease, effortlessly cluing the reader into the characters’ world. The constantly changing backdrop of “Genuine Fraud” is more than just pretty descriptions, though. The concreteness of the cities makes it easier for the reader to follow the plot, since it is reverse chronological. It’s tough to remember the order of important plot points because you constantly have to reorder it in your head. The settings dictate the clear path Jule travels, so a reader only has to associate an event with a city to know in what order it happened.

Jule herself is an annoying character. The more a reader knows about her, the less likeable she becomes (even though she’s already unlikeable in the first chapter). Objectively, she is not a good person, which serves the plot well, but that does not mean she shouldn’t be a good character. She is full of herself to an extent that her internal monologue drones on about her good qualities for paragraphs. She is muscular, yet petite; not your average girl, yet she draws people in. At some points, it becomes too much. The other characters are not developed enough, probably because of Jule’s being too full of herself to give them adequate characterization as the narrator. They can feel like cardboard cutouts parading around Jule to support her ego. Without the element of mystery, this book would have few legs to stand on.

This book is a good mystery. Lockhart may have made the story more confusing by telling it backward, but there really is no other way to tell the story. If you’re up for a challenging mystery, “Genuine Fraud” is worth your time. If you want to read a book for its characters or plot, maybe stay away for this one.