Monday, August 26, 2013

Gloriously creepy is the only way to describe Londoner Lottie Moggach’s debut novel Kiss Me First (Picador). It’s a piece of fiction that could only have been written right now, at this point in the life of the Internet, as a younger generation grow accustomed to having much of their meaningful human contact online. And in a way it’s a fairly grim vision of how that might affect them.

Leila is an isolated young woman. Her mother has died and she’s living alone in a grim flat in a part of London where she knows no one. She has over 70 friends on Facebook, none in real-life. But Leila doesn’t mind being by herself. She works at home as a software tester and spends her free time online playing World Of Warcraft or posting her thoughts on a philosophy site called Red Pill.

It is through Red Pill that Leila makes contact with the charismatic and mysterious Adrian Dervish. He flatters her by elevating her to the status of Elite Thinker on his website and then, in a face-to-face meeting, puts a proposal to her. Would she be prepared to help someone commit suicide? Not by providing pills or in any way doing the deed but by continuing their online life beyond death so that friends and family won’t know what’s happened and can be spared immediate grief.

Ok so not very likely but if the reader can put that aside, Moggach rewards them with an intriguing and utterly gripping read.

Tess, the girl who wants to die, is everything Leila is not - pretty, sexy and popular. But she is also bi-polar, veering from manic highs to deep depression. Counselling hasn’t helped and drugs make her feel only half alive. She doesn’t want to go on.

To assume her online identity Leila must know everything possible about Tess. It becomes her fulltime job to build up a profile, poring over her photographs, reading her emails, talking via Skype. Soon she is closer to her than she is to anyone else even though they have never met.

Leila is eccentric all right, super-brainy, cold, out of step with the world, tuned out to other people’s feelings. But as she “becomes” Tess it changes her in ways she hadn’t expected.

Most of us will have met someone a bit like Leila. The Internet has opened up a whole new world for these super-bright, socially awkward people but also made them more vulnerable and Moggach’s novel is an exploration of the possibilities for disaster.

She examines the way we live online, the fake versions of ourselves we present, the slipperiness and unreliability of identity.

Since she is the daughter of writer Deborah Moggach (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), the author has a literary pedigree but her style is quite different. This is an intense, darkly humorous piece of fiction with a finger right on the pulse of the Internet Age. It disturbs and entertains in equal measure.

About the reviewer.

 Nicky Pellegrino, an Auckland-based author of popular fiction, is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review was first published on Sunday 25 August 2013.

Her latest novel When In Rome is set in 1950's Italy and was published in September 2012. 
Her next novel, The Food Of Love Cooking School, will be published here next month.

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