KISS ME FIRST
Author: Lottie Moggach
Picador RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
If you haven’t seen the book trailer for Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach, check it out (it’s a Facebook app and you do have to allow access to your friend list for it to work, but it’s a one-time thing and it’s not used for spam). Not only is it seriously freaky, it’s also a fantastic summary of what the book, marketed as ‘The Talented Mr Ripley for the digital age’, is about. Kiss Me First asks the question, ‘Who are you online?’ … are you really yourself, are you who others want you to be, or are you who you think people want you to be?
Leila is a bit of a loner. As someone who doesn’t really fit into the mainstream, she prefers to work from home where she can hide from the ‘real world’, test software and play World of Warcraft; pretty much everything Leila knows about the real world comes from the Internet. She’s drawn to a website called Red Pill and discovers an online community full of philosophers (or wannabe philosophers) where people debate on forums about ethics, art, religion, maths and logic. Her contributions to the site attract the attention of its founder, the aptly named Adrian Dervish, who one day asks if they can meet. After discussing a ‘hypothetical’ dilemma about the right-to-die argument, Adrian announces the real reason for their meeting – he has a proposal for her. A woman has come to him, desperate to kill herself, but not wanting her family and friends to know; to get around this, she wants someone to pretend to be her online, so that no one would be able to tell she was not still alive.
Leila agrees to help the woman she later comes to know as Tess. But in order to assume Tess’s identity convincingly, she needs to know everything she can about Tess; Project Tess involves sorting through years of emails, messages and asking hundreds of questions such as:
In an email dated 27/12/08, William wrote, ‘Thank you for ruining lunch’. What did you do to ruin lunch? And why is he thanking you?
Your sign-offs are inconsistent, even in correspondence with the same person. Sometimes you will end with one ‘kiss’, sometimes two, sometimes many and sometimes none. What are the rules governing your sign-offs?
There are no emails or trace of you between February and April 2008. Where were you and what were you doing during that time?
Eventually Leila has to stop asking questions and start being Tess. At first it seems easy – the research was worth it. But after a while, Leila finds that the ‘facts’ are not enough and there are two sides to every story.
Kiss Me First is an original and dark story and yet, despite its at times chilling subject matter that includes suicide and alienation, it has an undeniable warmth. Leila is an interesting character; socially awkward with more of a connection to computers than people, it’s easy to see that most people would see her as a bit weird. Interestingly, Leila is well aware of the facades people adopt on social media, yet she does the same, hiding herself in role-play games, keeping to herself and so on. No one really knows the real Leila, because she won’t let them. As the reader follows her decision to role-play a real person and the consequences of that decision, the reader also becomes privy to her growth as Leila. I liked the inclusion of her offbeat roomie Jonty – not quite mainstream himself, he’s grounded enough in the ‘outside world’ to gently introduce Leila to life outside the ‘net.
The suspense builds slowly but surely, making the book a near-addictive read and conversation starter. The idea of identity theft is enough to give anyone the creeps (even though Tess’s identity was freely given, not stolen) and the methodical way Leila goes about it is disturbing. Also disturbing is the fact that at the end, Leila is left with questions of her own about another’s identity and what really happened to Tess, as are others.
Kiss Me First is a clever book – clever in its timely theme and in delivery. It’s also clever in the way that Leila finds her identity through assuming someone else’s. While it’s probably targeted for new adult readers, it will make readers of all ages with an online presence flinch, second-guess the way they present themselves online … and perhaps even make them adjust their privacy settings.
Available from July 1 from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan Australia. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: Food is not the biggest thing on Leila’s agenda, so she often enjoys a cheese toastie. Sounds OK to me.