We all spend a lot of time online. Emailing. Facebooking. Tweeting. Browsing. Searching. But how do we really know who we’re communicating with when they’re on the other side of a screen?
Lottie Moggach’s debut novel explores everything we think we know (and control) about our knowledge of the online world. Loner Leila is hired – via a forum – to impersonate suicidal Tess, who wishes to simply ‘slip away’ without hurting her family and friends. As far as Tess can see it, the best way to do this is by hiring someone to take over her life – but only her online life, where Leila can comfortably impersonate her without once having to make physical contact with anyone.
Leila – the narrator of the novel – is almost an anti-heroine. Yes, we feel sorry for her. She’s friendless, jobless, joyless, overweight, anti-social, miserable… The list is endless. And yet she still appears relatively content with her lot in life. In contrast, Tess – who was born into a middle-class family, is surrounded by dozens of friends, has an extended family and a host of memories that Leila does her utmost to devour – is tortured with bipolar disorder. This extraordinary contrast is almost ironic; on paper, the two women are living each other’s lives.
As she becomes more and more enveloped in Tess’s world, to the point where Leila’s own identity becomes totally malleable – she has become obsessed with the (digital) life of Tess. She impersonates her to friends, family, former lovers, all under the shield of the internet. But events quickly spiral out of control and the coolness of the ending will make you gasp.
The terrifying thing about Moggach’s novel is the plausibility of it all. It makes you question what you know, what you’re oh-so familiar with. We spend a lot of our lives behind screens – whether hiding or not – and Kiss Me First is a dark, thought-provoking modern-day parable, designed to horrify and thrill in equal measure. And it does both, perfectly.
By Katie Byrne
Kiss Me First, by Lottie Moggach (Picador), RRP £14.99, available to buy here