Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach
Kiss Me First is the first novel I’ve read that pinpoints the whole issue of the perils and attractions of social media. But it’s more than a cautionary tale for our times.
Twenty something Leila, has closeted herself away since the death of her mother, living her life online and playing World of Warcraft. Chancing upon a website called Red Pill which is a forum for philosophical debate about subjects such as euthanasia and existentialism, she is drawn in and soon finds a sense of community. When her postings are singled out for praise by the site’s founder and moderator, Adrian Dervish, she agrees to meet him in person. He has a surprising proposition for her.
The job is to take on the online life of Tess – a 38 year old woman who, dogged by manic depression, wishes to commit suicide but doesn’t want her friends and family to have to deal with that hurt. Instead, the plan is for Leila to take over Tess’s online accounts and pretend to be her – to maintain a façade and then gradually fade away, whilst Tess goes off somewhere to die. Will anyone notice? And what will happen when someone wants to actually talk to her on the phone or meet up in person?
Leila begins to study every aspect of Tess’s life, studiously picking part every last contradictory detail, so that she can concoct a plausible story. Leila is fiercely intelligent but socially naïve – she looks down on the ‘LOL’s’ and the textspeak but she also feels left out – that they all somehow learnt a secret lesson she wasn’t party to. She finds Tess maddeningly chaotic but is also envious of her sexual confidence, her life of parties and friends. This is the part I felt the author had the most fun with – she absolutely skewers the simultaneous vacuousness and appeal of social media. Leila is examining Tess’s Facebook:
“She subscribed to a long list of groups, and the random nature of the subjects – showing solidarity to Tibetan monks, saving an old music hall in East London, campaigning for Pizza Express to reinstate their original tomato-sauce recipe, supporting obscure bands, books, restaurants and ventures, as well as a myriad of whimsical causes such as Stop Aisling Wearing that Yellow Parka! and I Like the Way Huw Edwards Pronounces the Word Liverpool – made me suspect she was rather indiscriminate in the things to which she pledged allegiance.”
I winced in recognition lots of times about the photos of kittens squashed in wineglasses and the constant status updates and humblebragging and high school one-up manship. That sense that you are only living unless it is through the distorting prism of social media. That we are all now posting our every waking thought.
I found the whole premise chillingly believable. There are films like Catfish and the recent account in The Guardian of the multiple women being drawn in by an internet faker, but this is the first time I’ve seen it tackled in fiction.
One of the drawbacks about writing about social media is that it changes so quickly. How we chuckle at pictures of yuppies in the eighties with their gigantic brick mobile phones or laugh about the tumbleweed rolling through MySpace. There are already apps in development like LivesOn that analyse your tweets and then simulate you tweeting after you die. But I don’t think the references to Flickr etc will date the book – Kiss Me First raises far more profound issues of identity and fakery and jealousy and delusion. What fictions are we all weaving about the wonderful lives we are leading when we choose to portray ourselves online? Is there a mismatch between your online persona and your real life one?
We are all still putting feelers out for the ‘right’ way to deal with these things. I find it peculiarly poignant when someone you know, or don’t ‘know’, passes away and their final tweet or status update hangs there, suspended, in the ether. Only last month a picture headed ‘People You May Know’ appeared at the top of my Facebook page when I had in fact attended their funeral earlier this year.
The internet is still so relatively new. We are all still navigating these things. Kiss Me First makes you think about them. It also has one of the creepiest ingenious book trailers I’ve seen. The fact you have to give it access to your Facebook is ironic, but it’s worth it.
Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach is published by Picador.