Leila is a bit of a loner, no not a bit, a lot of a loner. She has spent her teens looking after her sick mother, and upon her mother's death at the hands of a cruel disease she withdraws into herself, occupying a small flat and only finding social interaction on internet gaming and forum sites. She comes across Red Pill, a website where intelligent people enter into philosophical debate and she quickly becomes popular, Red Pill becomes her everything so imagine her pride at being asked to undertake a special task that only she can do by the website's founder Adrian. The task isn't a what, but a who, "Tess", Leila is asked to learn to be Tess online, and to take over all of her social media conversations so that Tess's family and friends will be none the wiser when Tess chooses to "check out" of her life. As Leila begins to take control of Tess's imaginary life she slips further and further away from any semblance of her own, and her ability to separate the two is challenged when Leila begins to fall for a character from Tess's past.
Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach is a book that surprised me. When I was asked to review it after reading the synopsis I expected a bit of a thriller, and instead found myself reading a character story that had me questioning our social media driven lives. The thing that surprised me most was how much I pitied Leila, I expected to feel slightly horrified by her actions, I went into this story fully expecting to have issues with all the characters and the plot and just generally wishing it had been more than it was, but found myself intrigued by the potential for this story to become reality. It is slightly worrying to think that someone may not realise that you are no longer alive purely because of your online interactions, but it is entirely plausible.
Now I am not saying I have no issues with the characters, because I do (as always). I really didn't like Leila, she was incredibly judgemental for a person who has little life experience. She is one of those infuriating characters that you love to loathe, her attitude is such that for the first couple of chapters I believed that Leila was a teen, only to discover she was in her early twenties. I spent a good portion of the book wanting to shout at her and tell her to get over herself and into the real world, but also feeling quite sorry for her lack of life experience. This was even more infuriating when Connor, an old flame of Tess's, arrives on the digital scene and Leila starts to abandon Tess's character and inject some of her own into the conversation.
I love the contrast between Leila and Tess and the problems that the differences caused. During the character assessment phase of the story I spent a lot of my reading time thinking that the plan would never work because they were so different, I really wasn't sure that Leila could truly act so out of character when required, but I think her lack of real character herself may have contributed to her ability to do so. I found Leila to be incredibly stunted and her closeted range of life experience is what I mean by lack of character, she was almost like a watercolour, washed out, as opposed to Tess's brightly hued oil painting.
The plot was intriguing, we were told about the preparation stages before 'check out day', and then Leila taking control of Tess's life which all seemed very controlled, but around two thirds of the way through the novel we really start to see some action as things begin to go wrong. The first two thirds felt a bit long I have to admit, but they lull you into a false sense of security that is quite effective as you think that the plan may actually continue to be successful. One of my only real niggles with the plot was that the author glossed over things that Leila couldn't attribute real life experiences to, it really bugged me throughout, this isn't really an issue but I felt they could have been developed a bit more than Leila simply looking things up on Google. We all know you can't find everything on there and that sources are often far from accurate, it would have been nice to see this have a negative outcome at some point.
I enjoyed the resolution to the story, at one point I was wondering if the author was going to simply have the plan work perfectly, but as expected it does have to come to a close. I enjoyed that it doesn't do so in the manner we, or Leila, expects it to though. To have the character almost choose her own demise is quite satisfying to read, though I found Connor as a device quite frustrating as it seemed to peter out to nothing.
The story is told in two interweaving parts, we have Leila in the present day telling us about how she has come to be in a commune in Spain, and then the actual telling of the past where we discover about project "Tess". I have to admit that this is what kept me reading the whole way through, I wanted to know why Leila was at the commune for the majority of the story, and then I wanted to find out what she would discover there. I am not sure that the ending really satisfied my hunger for this information as I would have preferred the story to be tied up neatly, but a mystery was better suited for the plot, and the suggestion about Facebook really made me smile as I hadn't seen it coming.
This book has been very difficult to rate and review, I feel a bit mean giving this only three stars but to give it more would suggest that it was better than it was. The novel really is the sort of book that some people will love and others really not be able to get on with, if you are of an open mind I think you may find it interesting, if not enjoyable, but those grossly opposed to the idea of assisting someone to commit suicide may fail to appreciate the delicate aspects of the story. There is definitely potential in this debut author and I look forward for reading more of her work!
Kiss Me First is available from The Book Depository