British writer Lottie Moggach provides a disturbing look at the control that the Internet has over our lives — and our quality of life — in her debut novel “Kiss Me First.”
The book centers on Leila, a young woman whose social ineptitudes leave her looking to the Internet as her main source of companionship after the death of her mother.
Intelligent and unable to communicate with others in a traditional manner, Leila soon finds herself obsessed with a debate forum called Red Pill. Soon, she is singled out by the admin of the site, who requests that they meet in person to discuss her progress and superior way of thinking. This is where Leila is met with the question that will alter the rest of her life. Would she be willing to come to the aid of a woman — Tess — who wishes to end her life in a way that will leave her family and friends unaware of her passing and free from suffering?
Leila agrees to the task and begins to assume Tess’ identity, learning everything about her past and personality, so that she may take over her Facebook page, email account and telephone calls. After Tess “checks out,” as the two refer to Tess’ suicide, Leila will “become” Tess, full time, so that the people in Tess’ life remain under the impression that she is living in a far-off place, but still alive and well.
The idea of assuming someone else’s identity as a full-time job is a troubling one.
More disturbing is the notion that an identity can be so disposable and moldable. The real Tess disappears and yet she still exists because Leila updates her Facebook page. Leila ceases to live her life, giving up her identity to “be” Tess 24 hours a day, and yet she begins to gain fulfillment she was never able to find while acting as her true self.
Herein lies the point that Moggach is aiming to make.
Is there not an eerie similarity between time that Leila devotes to taking on the “better” existence of Tess and the fulfillment she receives from it, and the time that we as a society devote to taking on the “better” versions of ourselves that we present through our own Facebook pages and the pleasure we receive from that?
Moggach seems to be horrified by it, and, through reading her novel, I became rather horrified as well.
Through “Kiss Me First,” Moggach demands that we face the fact that our Facebook pages are starting to act as viable and equivalent versions of our physical selves; a plague of evil twins whose experiences always look better to us than they were when we lived them.
By taking on Tess’ online identity, Leila becomes what she always wanted to be — popular, attractive to men, outgoing — but once she tries to leave the confines of her bedroom and to act as Tess in the real world, she is left with only the self that she had forgotten she was, and fails miserably.
Moggach seems to be suggesting that society as a whole, like Leila, must come to terms with the people we truly are — independent of our online identities — in order to make an honest move in the right direction.
The conclusion of “Kiss Me First” does offer some hope in the form of Leila making peace with what she has done and beginning to create an identity of her own.
At first, it seemed to me that Moggach was offering this ending in the form of the age-old carrot dangled from a string and snatched away. The book itself does not explode at its conclusion in the same way that the questions it poses do.
This seemed inappropriate at first, given its loaded storyline. Yes, I did feel that Tess’ life and character were not afforded the
reverence they deserved.
However, I believe that Moggach ended her book the way she did for a good reason.
Readers leave Leila in a state of living an almost completely normal life — and it feels wrong only because we have been trained to wait for the big Facebook-status-worthy finish.
Moggach proves up until the very end of “Kiss Me First” that we have become intolerant of the mundane and inherently dissatisfied with the fact that someone is leading an average yet satisfying life. Here is a book well worth the read and the subsequent soul-search.