on 4 March 2014
In order to do this book justice, I have to confess that the way I read it almost certainly detracted from the impact it had on me. I read it in snatches, on my iPhone, on the bus. With sometimes a week or even weeks between each reading. Inevitably my experience was disjointed. I believe that had I read it as a paperback, or even on my iPad, with more continuity, my initial experience might have been different. Indeed re-reading it, or rather re-skimming it, I am seeing things I didn’t give myself the leisure to notice before.
All that said, Kiss Me First is well worth reading. It’s really good on detail, both as to place and character. I know London, and I also know Spain, and the descriptions bring both places alive. The plot is original and well constructed and there are some startling twists. As to the characters, these are revealed slowly. Both of these factors make reviewing the book more difficult. You don’t want to spoil it for the reader by revealing too much information, yet need to give some detail to illustrate your comments.
I didn’t pick upon many of the clues about Leila; the fault is mine. I now realise that, at the very beginning, I unconsciously created an image for her. I saw her character as somewhat akin to Juno, in the film of the same name. About a quarter of a way in my feelings changed and I began to feel very ambivalent towards her, then began to dislike her. It was only towards the end of the middle of the book that I began to see it differently. By then the clues had become less subtle but a more careful reading has revealed that they were there from the beginning.
Maybe I’m too cynical or world-weary but I had my doubts about the set up from the start. This too is down to the writer’s skill although it meant that for me there was no great surprise in that respect. However, the introduction of a police enquiry very early on, and well placed snippets of information keep the plot moving forward. Especially the way Connor, a new character, is dropped into the mix in a way that indicates how important he is, but without telling you much else for some time. That too kept me reading at a point where I had begun to lose interest. I will never know for sure how much this was due to my disjointed reading pattern, but I did feel the book sagged in the middle. I know that for me it picked right up when Connor was introduced.
I felt I owed it to the author to at least skim the book again before writing this review. Having started to skim I discovered so much wealth that I had not fully appreciated first time round and now I am eager to reread it. If you haven’t come across this book, I urge you to seek it out. And I also hope you will read it properly and give it the attention it deserves, and not butterfly around the way I did as this really didn’t do it justice.
on 7 December 2013
Leila lives a quiet life - some might say reclusive - but it suits her. She owns her own modest little London flat and has a job that allows her to keep the hours she likes so that she might while away the rest of her days playing World of Warcraft and debating ethics and philosophy on her favourite online forum, Red Pill. And she is content to keep this routine until one day she is contacted by an administrator of the site asking if she would be prepared to take on a special job. She learns about Tess, a slightly older woman who wishes to end her own life but is worried about the heartbreak that this would cause to her family and friends. Would it be possible for a tech-savvy individual like Leila to use internet profiles and social media to make them believe that Tess lives on?
Straight away this scenario offers so much food for thought around the fact that we are placing increasing chunks of our lives and personalities on display online. The premise seems outlandish at first, but as the story progresses Moggach makes it feel scarily plausible. Think of all the contacts you have on Facebook and Twitter, the passing acquaintances, old schoolmates, past work colleagues - would you really notice if one of them was an imposter? And then consider how much of your own information is published on the Web for the taking. How easy would it be for a complete stranger to impersonate you, or to manipulate your identity to further a cause of their own?
For me, the real strength of this book was Leila herself - I found her to be a very complex and intriguing character and could never quite decide in which direction the needle on her moral compass was pointing. She is a great unreliable narrator and really seems to be one of those characters that polarises opinion - in other reviews I've seen people describe her as a naive young innocent where others see her as a sinister sociopath, in equal parts likeable and unlikeable.
I was really impressed by this story - not necessarily because of any spectacular prose, or because I think it should set the literary world alight, no. But in Kiss Me First, Lottie Moggach has managed to spin a web of subtlety and ambiguity that has had me musing over it all day. Her observations are timely and relevant, and I think that anybody who considers themselves a part of 'the internet generation' will find it a very thought-provoking and compelling read.
One day, novels that don't refer to Facebook, laptops, and internet forums will seem as outdated as those which stay innocent of the crime solving powers of DNA, denying the use of any kind of phone other than a landline or a call box. This is a pioneer, a trailblazer of a modern mystery; zinging, fresh and smart.
Lottie Moggach, and yes she is the daughter of Deborah, embraces the world as it is today with steely purpose. Better still she has used the facilities offered by communication technology to carry the narrative of events that would never have been possible without them. She has had a Really Good Idea for a story, one which occasionally you may well fear she is going to bludgeon to death with overload. Tranches of tedious trivia detail stubbornly listed - Tess' rackety life is being researched, but we don't need 'too much information' much of which is unreliable and has no part to play. However Lottie M. confidently carries it through to a wistful, even hopeful, ending that rewards the reader for the long time spent getting to know her gauche but brainy heroine, Leila.
Leila lives in an extraordinary fashion. Recently bereaved after caring for her mother who suffered from MS, she has randomly chosen to live and work at her computer, in a small flat above a curry house. She has an unusual voice, one that reminded me strangely of the beached, bemused butler Stevens in The Remains of the Day or the yearning, obsessed, older schoolteacher in Notes on a Scandal. An innocent, modest ingénue, albeit size sixteen, she really doesn't get today's jargon, experiences or preoccupations. This makes her ideal for the purpose to which she is introduced.
Following her contributions to a philosophy forum, Leila agrees, or is persuaded, to ease the passing of an intended suicide, one who cares enough for her family and friends to be let down gently, the remit is to continue an online life after death for Tess. Unexpectedly for Leila, an unbalanced, deceptive, cyber romance sparks into life for her while she is sadly blind to opportunities closer to home.
Whether the plan will succeed, or even if it ought to, teases and tricks to the last page. I fell for Leila and wished her well. Her explanations and efforts were touching, yet worrying. I felt sympathy for her and wished her safe passage. Well done Lottie, you had me involved and busy turning the pages with grim fascination.
It's difficult to describe how I feel about this book, I have mixed emotions about it really, I found it very unpleasant and unsettling, and in some respects very uncomfortable reading, yet at the same time was compelled by it and couldn't put it down which is generally how I judge a book - if I can't put it down then it must be good. And yes, the writing was fairly good and kept me turning the pages quickly, but I just found the subject matter, and the main character really unpleasant. I'm all for dark storylines, I love them, but this somehow just seemed distasteful.
Leila is the main character, a twentysomething woman who has spent her entire life living with her mother and in recent years caring for her through illness and until her death. Thrust into the real world she moves to a small flat where she works from home testing software for someone her mum knew. In her spare time she plays games online and joins website forums. It's on one of these that she is enlisted by a man to assist a young woman named Tess cover up her own suicide. Tess wants to kill herself but doesn't want her family or friends to be upset by this so bizarrely wants someone to impersonate her online and by e-mail to keep up the belief that she is in fact still alive.
So this is where Leila comes in. Once Tess is dead, she will pretend to be her, update her Facebook status, send e-mails to her family and friends.It's a unique plot certainly, and quite intriguing, but for me the whole thing was spoilt a little bit by the frankly weird character of Leila. She was completely socially inept, had never really mixed with people her own age and dressed unlike a 20ish girl would, and was clueless about anything that her age group would normally be interested in. I suppose the story might not have worked with a cool "normal" person, they probably wouldn't have done what Leila did, but I just couldn't warm to her or sympathise with her at all, and I think it's important to have a central character the reader actually cares about.
However, the plot is interesting and the writing engaging and I would certainly look at a future book by the author.
on 13 September 2013
There seemed to be rather a lot of hype surrounding this novel, added to that the author's pedigree and the very zeitgeisty topic, I found it hard to resist. I wasn't disappointed with the story, but I wasn't exactly blown away. It felt as if an opportunity had been missed in some way - I was expecting a lot more of a paranoia, angst and tension-filled roller coaster, but instead I got a sad, reflective and poignant tale of misfits and depressives against a seedy London backdrop. Now, I'm all for sad reflective and poignant, but I wasn't primed for that, so my expectations were slightly confounded.
But don't let this put you off! Despite a slow start, the plot soon picks up momentum and soon we are drawn in to the online world created by Leila (friendless computer geek with zero social skills) and Tess (bi-polar free spirit who wants to end her life but continue 'living' online for a while to lessen the impact of the loss on her family). Sounds unlikely? Yeah, but I think you just have to go with it, and Moggach successfully manages to convince us that this state of affairs could actually happen. It is an intriguing read - I especially enjoyed the interplay between Leila and Connor and the awakening in her of new sensations. Leila's characterisation was one of the highlights of the book for me, she was very skilfully drawn and made me want to shake her one minute/give her a hug the next (although I wouldn't because I know she'd hate that!)
There are some big issues being tackled here, (identity, euthanasia) and Moggach delivers a thought provoking take on how these issues are woven in to our everyday lives, whether we notice them or not. Definitely worth a punt, and very impressive as a debut novel.
on 7 September 2013
I'm not a huge reader of crime thrillers, but throw in the suggestion of a mental unstable character and I'll change my mind immediately. I love the intensity of books where the characters are so unpredictable, and in the good ones, it's almost impossible to figure out where things are going next. And this is the reason I picked up a copy of Kiss Me First - it's main character is very naive and hints at the possibility of instability.
Leila isn't the most likeable character, although I found it quite easy to sympathise with her. Kiss Me First begins with almost the ending (if that makes any sense), as Leila finds herself in a commune in Spain, with a photograph of a woman in hand, asking the regulars if they had seen her the year before. Leila's life hasn't been easy - raised only by her mother, she struggles to fit in socially, and after moving out of the family home, she settles in a small flat above an Indian takeaway in a suburb of London, far away from anyone she knows.
It doesn't take long for Leila to retreat further into her own shell, finding work as a software tester, and spending hours playing online games and surfing the internet, she eventually comes across Red Pill. Red Pill isn't the type of website that I would visit, but I can see how it appealed to Leila's nature and how she found the interactions to be pretty addictive.
There's a huge amount to the plot that the synopsis doesn't reveal, but what I can say is that this book spirals - as Leila becomes more and more involved in Red Pill, she also starts to develop inappropriate behaviours and fixations and it's like watching a car crash - I couldn't look away.
Ending a book like this was always going to be a big ask, and although the intensity is pitch-perfect, everything felt a little bit too neat - especially considering everything that had happened to Leila during the course of the book, and it felt to me a little bit like she was being let off the hook for the things she had done.
As a debut, Kiss Me First is pretty damn impressive - it's tense, the plot is unique and unpredicatable, and the characters, although not likeable, are startlingly real. It was only the ending that left me a little bit unsatisfied, but it could definitely work for other readers.
Kiss Me First is very much a novel of our times. It concerns the internet, identity, isolationism and social interaction. Leila is a twenty something loner. She has spent much of her time caring for her ill mother and now that she has passed away she spends her time on her favourite message board (which is all about ethics) and playing World of Warcraft. The founder of that message board makes Leila a proposition. Someone wants to take their own life, but doesn't want to hurt their loved ones. So could you become them and impersonate them to help them carry out their wishes. That person is Tess, a screwed up but attractive 30 something who has an anything goes attitude to life that fits in with her personality disorder. Thanks the concept.
Written in first person in diary form the narrative combines the elements above and what follows with a trip to Spain by Leila. Leila is an excellent main character. Her lack of social awareness gives the reader a new view of social norms and when she starts to interact with others her lack of social awareness is awkward, endearing and rewarding for the reader. The novel works best when it focuses on the concept. The mystery element of the novel is also a central part of the pull from the author to the reader. You want to know what has happened. Therefore the openness (in some ways) may not satisfy all readers. The end does cover the bases but not comprehensively.
I really enjoyed this novel, I felt uncomfortable in some of Leila's social awkwardness and really felt her coming of age story was probably the most moving aspect of the novel. It isn't perfect. It doesn't deliver all the answers and in a mystery this doesn't satisfy as much as it should. Also, sometimes the two dimensional view of internet users can grate. However, there is a lot here to enjoy and to admire. I would recommend to those who like novels that leave them thinking.
on 9 August 2013
Kiss Me First is a first book from Lottie Moggach. I note that she is a daughter of Deborah Moggach whose books I enjoy. However, that is not the reason I bought this book. I bought this book because of the premise.
What is really striking about the book is that it is narrated by an `unlikeable' female character.
I didn't find her unlikeable, In fact I quite enjoyed reading about her logical way of perceiving the world and the way she noticed how `likeable' people in her world value hypocrisy and general stupidity. It is a sad that such a woman is left lonely by other people's misunderstanding of her honesty and logic and it is a subject well worth exploring in a book.
These days we're not blessed with too many unlikeable characters in our books, possibly because many writers are told that having an unlikeable main character can serve as a bar to publication, having an unlikeable female character even more so. Not in this case however, as this book is well published and publicized despite an entire cast of unlikeable characters.
I am glad this book was published - whatever the reason. Likeable characters are boring and unlikeable characters are not. We should have a lot more of them - especially female ones because there are already factory loads of well publicized, well published, nice, likeable female characters boring each other off the shelves at the front of the bookshops.
The character of Leila may have been unusual but surely the story topic isn't as unusual as many reviews seem to suggest. The assuming of another person's identity online is far from rare, not just for illegal purposes either. Surely most people do it - see dating sites and Facebook - perfect people `liking' perfect people.
Leila wasn't particularly good at it either. Her computer expertise seemed quite limited for a `nerd.' We can all Google now! She certainly had no `Dragon Tattoo!' It would have added several fathoms to the depth of the story if she had. Leila seemed too technically `behind' to drive a story that depended on her skills for its believability. This shortfall at is most apparent at the end of the book.
I wouldn't describe `Kiss Me First' as a page-turner in the conventional sense but I did feel compelled to keep reading, mainly because I felt it would be interesting to see how the `unlikeable' characters were dealt with at the end. When I got there I was disappointed. I felt there was a better ending for Leila. The ending that was there felt `pinned on' to satisfy a need for some kind of `happy' ending rather than fulfill the earlier promise of a story with truth.
However, this disappointment would not stop me recommending the book as a good read and I would certainly read Lottie's next book with greater interest. I would love to see if the confidence gained from the success of this book removes the pressure to sacrifice truth to the shrine of the happy ending.
"I think I'm starting to accept that life isn't black and white, that there isn't an answer to every question. Some areas will always remain grey, and perhaps that's not a bad thing"
There's been plenty of discussion already about the plot of this book so I'll skip that: in any case, while the plot plays with questions of online identity and social media, the heart of the book is really Leila's journey to a greater sense of self-awareness and social integration.
I found the start of this book a little slow to get going but after the first 100 or so pages it gets increasingly tense and gripping. Leila is one of the most interesting characters I've read recently, and much of the true story exists in the interstices between what she, in her innocence and social naiveté, tells us and what we discern for ourselves. Highly intelligent, socially awkward, overly literal, still grieving from the death of her mother with whom she had a close and intense loving relationship, Leila is cast adrift, more or less friendless, and finds refuge on a philosophical discussion website.
Moggach is especially good on allowing the sinister to seep through Leila's story so that we see things, wonder about things that she is blind to. The unreliable narrator is not a new device, but here Leila is utterly truthful, and her unreliability is due to her artlessness rather than an intention to deceive.
There are a few little niggles that could have been tightened up: as some other reviewers have noted, some of the mechanics of identity at the start get a little tedious. There's also a conspicuous contrivance in that Tess has, apparently, kept all her email correspondence going back 10 years in each of her email accounts, something that's a little hard to believe. But these are small flaws and easily forgiven.
So overall this is a gripping read which is both socially and emotionally intelligent. It makes use of very contemporary issues and concerns about online media but at heart is a story of one woman's poignant journey into self-hood and social acceptance.
What if you could pay someone to carry on being your online "you" whilst you say farewell to the world without troubling friends and family? This is the premise of the book, which certainly has some interesting themes, making you question the way we use facebook, forums and how people represent themselves online.
I quite enjoyed the book, though it got off to a slow start as we get to know the main characters, Leila, the socially inept program tester who takes on the task of being Tess, the 38 year old who has suffered from bi-polar all her life. This much is no spoiler as it's clear from the start that this is what has happened and that the police have been involved in some way, to find out the twists and turns along the way and the involvement of the cult leader like figure Adrian you will have to read the book. Parts of the story were really compelling, but then in others I did find the story a little frustrating, Leila is quite hard to relate to, her view of the world seems to be that of someone on the autistic spectrum, though this is never made explicit. Tess is not totally likeable either. Both characters seem to have been deliberately crafted the way they are by an author who is in control of the story, but it does drag a little in parts.
Overall an interesting read, that provides a lot of food for thought; a good debut novel, I will be interested to see what this author writes next.