I'm back, and feeling all refreshed after my not-so-little blogging break. Thanks so much to everyone who left comments wishing me well! Things are still hectic at work, and my exam is looming on the horizon at the end of January, but I have really been itching to get blogging again. And really, nobody can work all the time, can they? We all need diversions to keep us sane, and for me that diversion happens to take the shape of a big stack of books. That said, I've had a much-needed week at home this week which has been a long time coming. Let me share a novel that has kept me company while I've been carving out a groove in the sofa over the past few days.
Over the summer I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book in a giveaway over at Prose and Cons. It has had a decent amount of blogger buzz and I loved the wonderfully clever, creepy trailer - a must-try for any Facebook addicts out there! So I was delighted to find myself absolutely gripped when I finally got stuck into the story this week. It has left me bleary-eyed after keeping me up way past my bedtime.
Leila lives a quiet life - some might say reclusive - but it suits her. She owns her own modest little London flat and has a job that allows her to keep the hours she likes so that she might while away the rest of her days playing World of Warcraft and debating ethics and philosophy on her favourite online forum, Red Pill. And she is content to keep this routine until one day she is contacted by an administrator of the site asking if she would be prepared to take on a special job. She learns about Tess, a slightly older woman who wishes to end her own life but is worried about the heartbreak that this would cause to her family and friends. Would it be possible for a tech-savvy individual like Leila to use internet profiles and social media to make them believe that Tess lives on?
Straight away this scenario offers so much food for thought around the fact that we are placing increasing chunks of our lives and personalities on display online. The premise seems outlandish at first, but as the story progresses Moggach makes it feel scarily plausible. Think of all the contacts you have on Facebook and Twitter, the passing acquaintances, old schoolmates, past work colleagues - would you really notice if one of them was an imposter? If somebody made the effort to do as much meticulous research as Leila does in this story, you might have difficulty discerning that something was amiss with even quite familiar friends. And then consider how much of your own information is published on the Web for the taking. How easy would it be for a complete stranger to impersonate you, or to manipulate your identity to further a cause of their own?
For me, the real strength of this book was Leila herself - I found her to be a very complex and intriguing character and could never quite decide in which direction the needle on her moral compass was pointing. She is a great unreliable narrator and really seems to be one of those characters that polarises opinion - in other reviews I've seen people describe her as a naive young innocent but also as a sinister sociopath, in equal parts likeable and unlikeable. Sure, Leila has difficulty understanding the nuances of interaction on Facebook, and finds it easier to engage in logical and measured debate than friendly conversation. But I wasn't sure whether this represented some form of personality disorder or whether it stemmed from a sheltered adolescence spent almost exclusively in the company of her dying mother. Furthermore, I had difficulty regarding Leila as a victim, groomed by the shady but charismatic leader of Red Pill. There certainly seemed to be a clarity of reasoning that led her to act as she did, even if the morality behind her actions was dubious. But then I wonder if that in itself is part and parcel of the grooming, though - to make the victim believe that they are making their decisions independently without any coercion. Perhaps Leila is trying to 'groom' the reader to make us view her actions in a sympathetic light.
I was really impressed by this story - not necessarily because of any spectacular prose, or because I think it should set the literary world alight, no. But in Kiss Me First, Lottie Moggach has managed to spin a web of subtlety and ambiguity that has had me musing over it all day. Her observations are timely and relevant, and I think that anybody who considers themselves a part of 'the internet generation' will find it a very thought-provoking and compelling read.