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None of This Is True
(Review, Summary & Spoilers)

By Lisa Jewell



Book review and synopsis for None of This Is True by Lisa Jewell, a psychological thriller about a true crime podcaster and a woman who comes into her life and leaves destruction in her wake.

Synopsis

In None of This is True by Lisa Jewell, Alix is a well-known true crime podcaster who meets a woman with her same birthday who has an interesting story to tell and who claims she's on the verge of making great changes in her life.

Josie seems unremarkable, but as Alix digs into her past, it soon becomes clear that her life is stranger and darker than her appearance would suggest.

When Josie disappears, Alix realizes she's become the topic of her own podcast and that she and her family may be the next victims in the trail of destruction Josie seems to leave behind.

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Ending & Explanations
See the Questions, Ending and Explanations
Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of None of This Is True
Quick Plot Summary

The two-paragraph version is that Josie is downtrodden woman who meets a beautiful and successful podcaster, Alix, who she happens to share a birthday with. Josie convinces Alix to tell her story on her podcast where she describes being groomed by a man 20+ years older than her, Walter, who she married and had kids with, Roxy and Erin. Josie also says that he abused Roxy's friend Brooke and now has turned his sights on Erin. Josie learns that Alix's husband Nathan is an alcoholic. Josie wants to transform her life and finally leaves Walter. Soon after, Nathan goes missing, and so does Josie.

It's eventually revealed that Josie became convinced that getting rid of their "disappointing husbands" was the only way they could transform themselves and flourish. Alix figures out that Josie kidnapped Nathan. Walter's body is found, then Nathan's body is found, as well as Brooke's body. Roxy and Erin talk about how unstable and jealous Josie was. They also explain that Josie blamed Brooke for Roxy running away from home. A Netflix show about the whole ordeal gets made. Josie continues to be on the run, but she clarifies in a letter that Nathan's death was an accident. And privately she thinks about how Roxy was the one who killed Brooke (which is why she subsequently ran away from home), and Josie helped cover it up and lied about it during the podcast to protect Roxy.

The book opens by introducing a new Netflix show called Hi! I’m Your Birthday Twin! from podcaster Alix Summer, and the book is interspersed with descriptions of various clips from this show.

Part I opens with Josie and Alix's 45th birthdays. Josie is a downtrodden and unremarkable woman who married a much older man, Walter, when she was young. She meets Alix, who is an attractive and successful true crime podcaster. They discover their shared birthdays and that they were even born in the same hospital. Josie develops an interest in Alix's podcast which tells stories about women who have overcome obstacles in their lives to succeed and flourish. She tracks Alix down and tells her that she's about to make big changes in her life and asks Alix if she'd be interested in her story for her podcast.

As they start their recording sessions, Josie talks about her much-older husband, Walter, who she met when she was 13 and he was 41. They married when she was 19. They have two kids, Roxy, now 23, and Erin, 21. Alix also learns that Josie's kids were troubled, with Roxy being a troublemaker and potentially violent. Erin still lives at home and is a hardcore video-gamer. A neighbor mentions there were rumors of abuse in their household. Alex also meets Josie's narcissistic mother Pat who resents Josie for being the reason she had to drop out of college.

Josie also talks about how Walter kissed her for the first time when she was 15. He proposed and took her virginity the day she turned 16. At 18, she moved in with him. She describes Walter as controlling and explains how she built her whole life around being with him, but now she doesn't know what it was all for. They meet at Alix's home studio to record their sessions, and Josie steals small mementos from Alix's home -- starting with minor items, but soon moving up to more substantial items like a diamond bracelet -- wanting to have small pieces of it with her.

Meanwhile, Alix has her own complications at home with her husband, Nathan. While Nathan is generous and successful, he often goes on drinking benders and doesn't come home. Alix tries to make her peace with it, but when Josie finds out about it she feels enraged with Nathan.

One night, Alix has Walter and Josie over for dinner, and she finally meets Walter. When Walter speaks to Alix, he warns her that Josie has a tenuous connection with the truth and that she can be very "tricky" and says that she needs to control situations. At home, Josie fights with Walter and hurls increasingly pointed insults at him. In response, he calls her weird and stupid. Josie is furious.

In Part II, Josie shows up -- battered and bruised -- at Alix's doorstep the morning after the dinner on Friday. She says that Walter was in a bad mood after the dinner and took it out on her. She asks Alix for a place to stay, which soon morphs into pressuring Alix to let her stay for the week. Alix is reluctant and feels she is being controlled by Josie, but she also senses that saying no will jeopardize the podcast which is just starting to get interesting. While at the house, Josie continues collecting trinkets -- like a child's drawing, Nathan's business card, a photo and other items.

As they record that week, Josie talks about how Roxy had a good schoolmate, Brooke, but they had a falling out. It was discovered that Walter had been grooming Brooke the way that he'd been grooming Josie before, and he slept with Brooke when she turned 16. After that happened, Josie refused to let Walter touch her. Instead, his sights turned toward Erin, and he's been abusing her ever since, slipping out of bed most nights. Erin has been avoiding Josie for the last six months or so, refusing to see her, and her tastes have gotten stranger with her now only being willing to eat baby food. Finally on Friday, Josie had enough and stood up to Walter and left him, taking Erin and her dog with her. Erin chose to stay elsewhere.

Alix is stunned at these revelations and looks into the story about Brooke, which shows that Brooke is now missing. A clip from the show shows Brooke's aunt talking about how she was last seen at a bus stop. Alix soon discovers that the bus stop Brooke went missing at is a 2-minute walk from Josie's house.

When they talk about what happened after the Friday dinner, Josie describes how Walter beat her with a remote control after she accused him of abusing her, Brooke and Erin. Alix follows-up with questions that reveal holes in her story, but Josie brushes it off. Alix suggests trying to reach out to Brooke or Erin for the podcast, but Josie bristles at either suggestion.

When Nathan tells Josie she has to leave at the end of the week, Josie is angry. She snoops in the master bedroom when no one else is home. She finds a clear baggie with white powder residue and a hotel keycard in Nathan's pant pockets. On another clip from the show, a woman named Katelyn describes how she used to know Josie as a child and then ran into her again many many years later, with her now working as a (struggling) actress. Josie told her she had a job for her.

In Part III, Josie leaves Alix's house, but follows Nathan to a bar. As instructed by Josie, Katelyn approaches Nathan and his friends. Meanwhile, at home Alix finds the items from in Nathan's pockets (which Josie planted for her to find), along with a napkin with a woman's name and phone number (which Josie added). Alix also finds a bloody key that Josie left behind. That night, Nathan doesn't come home and a day later he's still not back.

Alix is convinced he is cheating on her until she gets a call from a hotel nearby regarding damages to a hotel room. She goes to the hotel and starts to ask questions. They show her the CCTV footage, which shows Nathan being picked up by a car, and she finds out that the hotel room was paid for on a card belonging to "Erin Fair". Alix calls in a favor to trace the car's plates. It's a rental currently rented by "Erin Fair".

Alix calls the police to report that Nathan has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, someone else calls in a welfare check for Erin and Walter Fair. The next day, the news reports that Walter Fair has been found dead, and Erin was beaten severely and is in a coma. The police learn that Erin had a large sum of money saved up as a video-game streamer on the Glitch platform, and Josie has been siphoning money from Erin's account.

Soon, Roxy Fair surfaces. She talks to the police and says that most of what her mother claimed was a lie. Walter Fair was not sleeping with Brooke (who was Roxy's first girlfriend) -- Roxy ran away because she wanted to. He was also not abusing Erin. He would go into Erin's room late at night, but only to join her Glitch streams and make wisecracks which her followers loved. Pat also reaches out to Alix and tells her about how she was actually the one who started having an affair with Walter when Josie was 13. As Josie got older, she became fixated on him and the two eventually told Pat they were together when Josie turned 18.

Soon, police find Nathan's body in the water near a cabin where they think he was being held. Brooke's body is found in the trunk of a car (the key Alix found) in Josie's garage. Erin comes out of her coma. She explains how Josie is someone who couldn't stand anyone loving someone else more than her. She was jealous of Walter loving the kids more than her, or his own kids more than her and of the fact that he was with Pat before her. Erin also says that because of her Glitch savings she was ready to break free from Josie, and she thinks her mother was threatened by that which is why Josie felt the need to have something drastic happen.

Erin also admits to seeing Josie attack Brooke the night of the prom, since she blamed Brooke for Roxy running away from home. She says it's why she started distancing herself from her mother.

In Part IV, Josie is still on the run and Nathan's funeral happens. The podcast airs and is turned into a Netflix show. Josie reaches out to Alix via a letter to tell her that Nathan's death really was an accident -- she was drugging him and didn't think he'd die from it.

The book ends with Josie, now blond and living elsewhere, thinking about what really happened to Brooke. Roxy was the one who killed Brooke and then Brooke ran away as a result of it. The rest of the family helped to cover it up. Josie lied about it to protect Roxy, and in that way she tells herself she was a good mother.

For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell was released last July, so this one has been on my list for a while. I’ve had pretty good luck with Lisa Jewell novels in the past, so I had high expectations going into this one.

Josie is downtrodden and unassuming woman, but with a dramatic story to share. Alix is a glamorous, well-known true crime podcaster who takes an interest in what she has to say. Josie hungers for attention and envies Alix’s life, while Alix wants to dig deeper into Josie’s story and see what she can uncover. Something about the progression of this story feels very natural, yet it’s clear it’s headed toward something dangerous, and I was captivated.

I’ve done a lot of reading the past week or so, and I was thinking I’d take this one a little slower. But as soon as I got into this book, I was completely hooked.

I’ve said this before, but I find that Lisa Jewell’s writing style really agrees with me. It feels substantive enough that it has very little of the cheesiness that some mystery-thrillers lean into, while not getting so bogged down that it slows down the story. I also think she’s skilled at writing mystery-suspense characters that feel real and nuanced and fully developed.

This book doesn’t have quite the same wild twists and turns that some mystery-suspense novels do, but it definitely has a few good tricks up its sleeve. It’s also a very finely-crafted psychological thriller with lots of suspense and atmosphere. The story is engaging and drew me in easily. With a lot of page-turners that don’t have real meat to the story, I often find myself reading as if I’m killing time waiting for the next plot twist. With None of This is True, it has some surprises up it’s sleeve for those of you who love a good plot twist, but mostly I was just very riveted by the story the whole way though.

None of This is True is a really good book if you like psychological thrillers. It’s one that’s clearly thought out and carefully considered, so it’s worth reading attentively and fully grasping onto all the details if you want to really get at the truth of the events in the book. Everything makes sense in the end, if you pay attention. I loved that it’s a psychological thriller that’s worth giving real thought to trying to understand.

There’s way too many psychological thrillers that are mostly just a lot of atmosphere and plot twists but don’t really stand up to scrutiny. This is not one of those books. It is, of course, still a genre novel so if you only read literary fiction, I still don’t know that I would recommend it to you. But if you like this genre or are even willing to entertain a page turner from time to time, this is a really great one.

Some (Non-) Criticisms

The worst thing I would say about this book is that the cover is really ugly, and it doesn’t do the book justice. I really hate it. I think this is such a solid psychological thriller and really deserves a better cover.

While the reviews of this book have been very positive, I’ve read a few where people mentioned they found the ending ambiguous. I have to say, I could not disagree more. I do not think it’s ambiguous at all beyond the normal and interesting level of ambiguity that comes with trying to psychoanalyze complex characters who are trying to obfuscate the truth. I talk more about this in the Explanations section below, but I think Jewell plants a lot of small clues so that there is some indication of the truth. While the characters in the book may disagree on things, I actually feel like there are answers to be found.

None of This is True is a genuine psychological thriller where the characters have nuance beyond being “evil” or “good”. To the extent that introduces a small amount of ambiguity, I think that’s a good thing. I can’t say more without spoiling the book, but I’ve included a discussion of this down below for anyone who has read the book!

I just wanted to point this out because I think it would be such a shame to skip this book for that reason.

Author Lisa Jewell

Read it or Skip it?

I’ve read a few of Lisa Jewell’s novels now, and I’ve liked them enough that she’s an author that I very much look out for. I would say that after reading None of This is True, I’d officially consider myself a Lisa Jewell fan. I think she writes dependably solid psychological thrillers, and I’m into it.

If you’re looking for a good page-turner to lose yourself in, this is a good bet. I would actually go so far as to say this is my favorite psychological thriller that I’ve read in quite a few years. Happy reading!

See None of This is True on Amazon.

None of This is True Audiobook Review

Narrator: Kristin Atherton, Ayesha Antoine, Louise Brealey, Alix Dunmore, Elliot Fitzpatrick, Lisa Jewell, Thomas Judd, Dominic Thorburn, Nicola Walker & Jenny Walser
Length: 10 hours 20 minutes

In addition to this being a solid psychological thriller, the audiobook for this is really well produced. Part of the premise of the book is that one of the characters, Alix, has created a show based on her experience, and the book is interspersed with “clips” from that show. The audiobook does a great job of producing these clips and adding music and whatnot to them (hence, the huge list of narrators for this book).

Definitely a solid choice for an audiobook. The voice actors all do a good job as well.

Hear a sample of the None of This is True audiobook on Libro.fm.

Spoiler-ish Thoughts

SPOILERS BELOW. DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU DO NOT WANT ANY SPOILERS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

As I said above, None of This is True is a true psychological thriller. Pat, Walter, Josie, Roxy and Erin are all pretty messed up and damaged people, which makes sense. Messed up people tend to attract other messed up people and pass down generational trauma.

Throughout the course of the book, we’re meant to doubt Josie, but a lot of what she said is actually probably true. The only part she really lied about was what happened with Brooke, which she did to protect her kids. She didn’t mention the thing about Pat dating Walter (which was probably just him trying to get close to Josie), but it doesn’t really change the fact that Walter was still a pedophile.

Of course, just because she didn’t lie about all of it, doesn’t mean she isn’t a very damaged person. She does still obsess over Alix and engage in a plot that accidentally kills Nathan and she nastily threatens Leon when Alix insults her. But that’s what makes her a character worth reading about.

I like that the ending is not as simple as “Josie is evil and lied about everything” or “Josie is a victim” — instead, Josie is damaged and did bad things but also tried to protect her kids and therefore lied about some stuff. But basically she’s also a victim in some ways and wanted to tell her story. I think None of This is True is a true psychological thriller because its characters are psychologically interesting and complex in that way.

I don’t there was an excessive amount of ambiguity to be found in the book, unless you consider the fact that she’s not just a basic “evil liar” to be ambiguous. I think it’s pretty clear that Roxy and Erin were lying about some stuff. The main thing that didn’t make sense with their version of events is that Roxy had all these randomly violent episodes (breaking Erin’s arm, breaking someone’s finger, punching Brooke) which weren’t explained and then she claimed she ran away for no reason. Also, Walter saying that he’s worried about them going to prison is also not explained unless Roxy killed Brooke and they covered it up.

It makes much more sense that Josie lied about what happened with Brooke to protect Roxy and that Walter was involved. The fact that Roxy has violent episodes is not surprising considering she was raised by a pedophile and a damaged mother. Her violent episodes are consistent with her eventually lashing out and killing Brooke. It also makes her running away from home make sense. (Roxy claims she and Brooke were happy together but she just chose to randomly leave without her, it makes no sense.)

Josie is not a randomly violent person. She kills Walter because he was the source of her misery, and the Nathan thing happens because her worldview is warped and she sees Nathan as being “bad” like Walter and wants Alix to see it too. She also probably wants to be close to Alix in that way, commiserating over their shared terrible husbands. But while she is crazy and damaged, being randomly violent doesn’t seem to be her M.O.

As for the stuff about Erin being abused, I think there’s an interesting amount of ambiguity there. It’s possible Erin and Roxy were lying. It’s possible Josie was lying. It’s also possible they were both telling the truth — maybe it was innocent between Erin and her father, but Josie assumed something bad was going on because of her experience with him. I think Erin was abused, as discussed more in the Explanations section below, and the main confirmation of that is from the gamer friends who seem to indicate that Roxy was lying (see the Explanations section for that discussion).

Anyway, I really liked this book, and I thought it was fun to read and fun to discuss! If you read it and have thoughts about this, I’d love to hear it!

Ending & Explanations

See the Questions, Ending & Explanations for None of This Is True

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of None of This Is True



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