All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach

on September 9, 2013

Kiss Me FirstKiss Me First
Lottie Moggach
Picador
2013, 337p
Read from my local library

Loner Leila has devoted her years after school to nursing her mother, who had MS. Missing out on a chance to go to college and further her education, Leila spends her days and nights online when she’s not caring for her mother. After her mother’s death, Leila moves to a small apartment, arranging her life so that she barely needs to leave. She works from home doing software testing, she plays World of Warcraft. And she has discovered a site called Red Pill.

At Red Pill, Leila feels like she’s finally found a place where she belongs. They debate ethical questions, each argument rationally thought out and stated. It’s a tough initiation process but Leila makes it through and is accepted into the group’s inner circle, which makes her feel proud. She’s even more pleased when the charismatic owner of the site sees something special in her and asks to meet. He has a real-life ethical dilemma for her.

Adrian tells her about Tess, the type of outgoing, popular person that Leila would never meet in real life. Tess, for many reasons, wants to disappear. Leila will have to get to know every facet that is the disturbing, willful, beautiful woman in order to eventually become her, taking over Tess’s online life: her facebook account, her emails, her presence.

Leila is thorough and studies hard for her role. She emails Tess and Skypes with her many times, constructing a Tess spreadsheet that details everyone in her life – who they are, how she knows them, how often she has contact with them, what sort of interactions they have. She learns about Tess’s likes and dislikes, her habits – all of which are difficult as Tess is as changing as the weather. Leila is preparing herself for the day…the day where Tess disappears. Being Tess will be her new job.

Kiss Me First is a difficult book to review. It’s not a typical story of identity theft, in fact I’m not even sure I’d use that description despite the blurb. It’s about manipulation wrapped around an ethical dilemma wrapped around loneliness and isolation. Leila has obviously led a very sheltered life – she has no siblings, she has no father. It’s just her and her mother and it’s clear she’s rather indulged by her mother who at the same time, keeps her incredibly close. Leila rarely goes out, even after graduating from school. She devotes herself to caring for her mother, who has advanced MS and when her mother dies, Leila becomes almost entirely alone in the world. She spends her days online, playing WoW and posting on Red Pill, a forum where would be philosophers and theorists debate questions of ethics and intelligence. As a victim, Leila is ripe for the picking. She has very few social skills, she’s very easy to manipulate. She also displays beliefs that make her perfect for Adrian, the owner of Red Pill, to recruit her into his ‘team’ (for want of a better word). Leila is paired up with Tess, a mentally unstable woman who wants to disappear but without the messiness of having anyone actually know what she’s done. Instead they concoct a plan for Tess to move to a remote place abroad for a “fresh start”. Leila grills Tess on all sorts of things – her family, her friends, her job history, her likes and dislikes, her prior relationships. Tess is not an easy person to begin to impersonate and it takes Leila many Skype calls and emails and reading through her emails and facebook correspondence before she begins to feel like she could take this over. Leila dedicates her life to researching Tess’s new life, always ready to post little anecdotes about her new “location”.

I’ve always spent a lot of time online and I know how easy it is to get addicted to it but I’ve never shunned real life in favour of it. I’ve always had flatmates, friends, other things to do when I step away from the computer and I’m married with kids and commitments. But in many ways, Leila reminds me of someone I knew online when I was at university. She lived alone, on a disability pension and rarely left her house, only to shop for food. She lived in a timezone that was different to myself and a group of others and she changed her hours to correspond with ours so that she would be online the same time we were, for the same length of time. This is essentially, what Leila does. Tess “moves” across the globe and Leila shifts her day so that it begins when it would be morning in that part of the world. She becomes so invested in Tess that it becomes an obsession, hunting down things to post and talk about, long after anyone in Tess’s life has really stopped caring and bothering to ask. The impersonation of Tess is complicated for Leila when one of her ex-boyfriend’s gets in touch. Leila knows that Tess probably wouldn’t have bothered to respond but she finds herself drawn into a protracted communication with him that leads her to actually attempt to seek him in the real world, convinced that if she could talk to him, he’d realise that it was her he was talking to and loved, not Tess. This of course has danger written all over it but Leila as mentioned, doesn’t possess the ability to be able to judge other people’s reactions. She sees many things in black and white.

Kiss Me First is deceptively sinister, rather than overtly. For a long time the narrative switches back and forth between the present, where Leila is in Spain attempting to find out what happened to Tess when she vanished, and the past where she first joined Red Pill, met Adrian and became involved in Project Tess. There’s a lot that you have to fill in yourself or wait for the book to unfold to provide you with the answers. In the end though, I remained a little torn on Leila’s character. She seems incredibly naive (almost ridiculously, unbelievably so) and possibly with some sort of disability be it a personality disorder or something like Asperger’s, given her high obsession with research, order and the way in which she seems unable to really relate to other people in the real world. There were a few offhand remarks and actions though, that had me questioning if her problems went much deeper than that, if there was really something deeply unstable about her. I liked that I had questions, that there were some shadows and mysteries. It was always the sort of story where things were never going to be resolved neatly, tied up in a bow.

A very intriguing first novel from this author. Definitely anticipating what she does next.

8/10

Book #234 of 2013

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One response to “Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach

  1. Really enjoyed this book, it made me nostalgic for forums

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