Frank Egerton is, at the least, intensely familiar with Oxford. As both a former English student and a librarian at the Taylorian, one would expect him to be rather grounded in the city, possessed of knowledge beyond the blinkered perspective of the mere student.
Indeed, Oxford looms high throughout; though the action swings through London and West Oxfordshire, the author seldom escapes the city’s influence. Even the Dickens-themed pub chain that the protagonist maintains echoes Oxford’s penchant for Hardy-themed dens.
Invisible is billed as a dystopian romance set in New Labour’s Britain. Egerton’s principal narrator, the middle-aged Tom Dickens, recounts his past in writing as a form of literary therapy. He recalls deciding to trade both his long-term girlfriend and his business interests to start afresh in a more rustic manner, a decision that results in passion, strife and eventual invisibility. Diary entries from Tom’s lover Sarah are scattered throughout the book, along with the occasional third person passage.
The text slumps in and out of these two lives, providing the reader with a selection of scenes and memories that form an incomplete picture of both.
Egerton refuses to reject unwieldy symbolism. At one point, for instance, Tom reaches revelation regarding the private and the public through watching his partner vomit.
There is no doubt that the internal becomes external at this point, but the very idea of gaining a universal insight through such only provokes incredulity. Similes and idioms long blasted into meaninglessness, the sort that would make Orwell turn in his grave, abound.
Furthermore, the prose feels rather heavy-handed, stilted by an often sparse diction into un-naturalistic expressions.
There is a sense during dialogue in the novel that people, well, don’t really speak like this. Discarding all these issues, however, the central impression left by the novel is, well, that of invisibility.
Although predominantly written through the eyes of two characters, one senses very little of them. Both their words and thoughts do not seem to emerge from their own existence as fictional characters, but rather from a factually dry narrator who remains static throughout. The characters continuously describe and define themselves, as if Egerton is unable to resist the third person viewpoint even as he writes in the first.
Ultimately, Invisible’s style hampers it, rendering it no more than a series of soap opera moments that simply cannot make the novel stand out.