Kiss Me First, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2013 GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD On the internet, we can be anyone we choose.

No one knows who we really are. Sheltered and obsessive, Leila spends more time online than out in the real world.

So she seems the ideal person to take over the virtual identity of the vivacious and fragile Tess, who wants to disappear.

But even with all the facts at her fingertips, there are things that Leila can't possibly know about Tess - or herself - until it is too late . .




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This novel is about a reclusive young woman who joins a strange philosophy website and, having 'proved herself' during debates on all kinds of topics, is chosen by the charismatic website founder to help him in a special project. A friend of his, an older woman called Tess, wants to end her life, and to avoid upsetting her friends and family, Leila is going to take over her online accounts for a time before slowly reducing her social media presence to nothing. As far as her loved ones are concerned, the naturally flighty Tess will be moving to a little island off Canada to start an idyllic new life as an art tutor. In actual fact, every photo, every update, every detail of her beautiful new home has been created by Leila using the reams of information she's carefully collected from Tess during the preceding months. So far so intriguing - until Tess's old flame, Connor, gets in touch and Leila finds herself falling in love with him...This is definitely meant to be a thriller, about obsession and ethics and our online lives. It didn't really play out as a thriller, in the end - the middle section definitely dragged a bit - but it's still a fascinating read. The sheer scale of attempting to take over someone's online existence was mind-blowing; Leila literally has to piece together Tess's entire life, covering every eventuality and every friend or family member who might get in touch, in order to avoid suspicion. It was actually frighteningly plausible, watching this very naïve girl getting sucked into her own fantasy, creating a whole new daily life for Tess in Canada in order to email and update Facebook convincingly, even orchestrating fake answerphone messages to Tess's mother when she knows there'll be no one home to pick up the phone. I watched her getting more involved with Connor, feeding her own personality into their correspondence until she's sure he's in love with Leila, not Tess, and wanted to shake her and scream, "THIS ISN'T GOING TO GO WELL FOR YOU, YOU IDIOT!"And it doesn't. Of course it doesn't. You know from the beginning that things are inevitably going to go wrong - particularly due to repeated mentions of police investigations early on - but I didn't quite put my finger on how things were going to play out until I got there, which was refreshing. The novel is told via a kind of after-the-fact account being set down by Leila after the Tess furore has died down. She's in a hippy camp in Spain trying to trace Tess's movements after 'check-out' (the day the online accounts were officially handed over), and this was where the novel dragged for me. The actual mechanics of the deception, and its impact on Leila's life, is interesting and compelling, but her meandering around the hippy camp befriending travellers and trying to get a positive ID on Tess from people who had visited the previous summer... not so much. I just wanted to get back to the main story! That said, it does all tie together in the end, more or less, so I understood why the 'present day' narrative was there too.My other major gripe with the book, and in particular with Leila, was her sheer ignorance of the world. I mean, I understand that her character is very much of my generation - she spends most of her time online, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else - and doesn't have any friends thanks to a lengthy spell in which she cared for her dying mother full-time. I get that. I think most of us can relate to her in some way, because the internet is ever-present in our lives. But she's just SO ignorant. I mean, online life can be limiting in many ways, but what the hell has she been doing on there?! I don't know about all of you, but I spend a lot of time article hopping on newspaper websites, for example. Discovering new music via YouTube. I learn things about the world, about history and culture and modern life, from the internet. Leila, on the other hand, has never heard of Virginia Woolf or The Stone Roses, and doesn't know what a didgeridoo is. She has no concept of modern vocabulary despite apparently spending her life in the world of hashtags and urban slang. She's never read newspapers or been to Topshop. She's literally the most clueless 20-something I've ever come across, fictional or not. She's meant to be an internet-dweller, not a hermit in some cave up a mountain somewhere! I thought that aspect of her character was a bit too unbelievable.What I really <i>liked</i> about the novel was the way it made me think about so many different issues, from so many different angles. The website Leila joins, Red Pill, is a philosophy website for debating and ethical thought, and several examples crop up in the novel even before the founder, Adrian, selects her for The Tess Project. In a lot of ways the entire book is a study in the ethics of suicide, of the right to die with dignity, of ownership over one's own body, and it definitely throws up all kinds of angles for the reader's consideration as well as Leila's. This might sound heavy-handed but it's really not - it's just one of those novels that effortlessly makes you ponder life, the universe and everything as you read. Final thoughts? I really enjoyed this novel, and definitely appreciated the fact that it found a new and unique angle from which to tackle the darker side of the immersive and occasionally all-consuming online life that so many of us lead these days. It didn't blow me away and keep me hooked quite as thoroughly as I'd hoped, but it was a fascinating read and still managed to deliver one last little gut-punch near the end just when I was least expecting it. More by Lottie Moggach, please!

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