“Don’t believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.” Douglas Adams
Kiss Me First is about suicide and about online identity, so the book had me at once upon a time, only it didn’t start that way, of course. The reader topples straight into the action, but here’s the basic premise, from the book itself.
“The idea, in a nutshell, was this: The woman — Tess — would inform her family and friends that she intended to move abroad to start a new life in some distant, inaccessible place. She would hand over to me all the information I would need to convincingly impersonate her online, from passwords to biographical information. Then, on the day of her “flight,” she would disappear somewhere and dispose of herself in a discreet manner, handing the reins of her life over to me.”
That’s Leila, the impersonator and narrator, who is also a cybergeek, an LOTR fan and WoW player. In fact, it’s WoW that triggers her journey down the rabbit hole – but I’m not giving out any spoilers. She is also socially awkward, unpretty* and unpopular; gloomy English setting doesn’t help matters much either. Several reviewers described Leila negatively (flat, grey), but I am not sure I agree, and she reminded me of Chi Park (the short, Chinese woman on House MD in season 8) in some ways.
“I hadn’t spoken to Rashida for a few years, but had kept track of her on Facebook, and knew she had moved to Rottingdean with her fiancé, a management consultant. I sent her a message telling her mum had died, and she said she was sorry, and that if I was ever in Rottingdean I must visit her and Stuart. I noticed that she had posted a new picture showing off her engagement ring, and she had done her nails like the girls at school, with a stupid white stripe across the top, which was disappointing.”
So that’s (bipolar) Tess and (geek) Leila. Then there’s Adrian, who runs a forum called Red Pill. And the plot proceeds, in a decidedly cerebral manner. The story flits between past and present (pre- and post-suicide), which is a method I’m fond of.
I like Lottie Moggach’s writing style (she’s Debbie Moggach’s daughter), it’s free and fluid. I have no idea whether the author is bipolar, or in love with/related to someone with it, or whether she’s simply brilliant at research and getting right into her characters’ skins. Here’s Tess, with startlingly impeccable bipolar-suicidal logic (it’s drama-friendly bipolar i as usual).
“The other day you were saying something about “beating” manic depression, like it’s a dragon to be slain or something, but I don’t feel like that. It’s this thing that is part of me, ingrained into my character, and I will have to live with it until I die. This is it. I read this quote once from this woman, which was “No hope of a cure, ever, for being me,” and that’s exactly how I feel.
Every day, when I wake up, I have to make the decision whether or not I can bear to live with that. The thing is, now I know the script. I know what happens to me. When I’m drugged I might feel on an even keel but I’m only half alive. I’m just existing. All my fire and creativity go. And when I’m in a manic phase I’m too alive.
If I’m not on pills, then I’m crazy and I hurt people and I want to die. And if I am on pills, then I lack my fire, and I don’t feel things deeply; I’m just shuffling through life like everyone else, using up resources, eating food and shitting it out…I’m living a mundane life, just for the sake of it.
And when I look at the future, I can only see more of this same old shit…I just don’t see the point in repeating the same things over and over again, becoming more and more invisible, going to sleep and waking up, always doubting my own instincts, feeling either half-alive or out of control. I just don’t want to do it anymore.”
I had so many hell yes moments with Tess.
Suicide is a tough subject and it’s difficult for most people to listen without panicking and problem solving; it is interesting to follow the storyline because of that. Obviously I’m not suggesting that any of you off yourselves, I’d be heartbroken if you did, but I do think the topic is very worthwhile discussing. The book doesn’t push you one way or the other.
“Life is about quality, not quantity, and it’s up to each individual to judge whether theirs is worth living or not.” (Leila)
Naturally, it brings up the subjects of right to die and assisted suicide.
Fun sidebar fact: Social taboos have prompted the creation of death cafés, to facilitate conversations about it all.
You might find the book utterly depressing, I don’t know. My badass sorrowful and nerdly** self enjoyed it very much. It brought up interesting questions for me. For example, when pondering whether someone was in their ‘right mind’ (whatever that is), does their saying …
“A warning: Im a complete fucking nutcase. Sorry.” (Tess)
… incline you to think they’re actually sane, or not?
So much of my own identity only ever gets expressed online now, that I kept forgetting that it was a main theme in the book. Leila says (about assuming Leila’s persona),
“It was like having an avatar, but much better.”
The disconnect between on and offline, of anyone who cares about their image, is frequently huge and that seems to be Moggach’s main point; it threads its way through the book in various ways. And then there’s the issue of what we project and who we are online. Compare Leila pretending to be Tess, with the rest of us pretending to be who we want other people to see. As Tess journeys away from reality, Leila moves towards it.
So – well written, interesting plot, but … despite the intrigue, I didn’t agree with the book’s (few) changes of pace along the way and I found the ending unsatisfactory. It all went from yeah to meh for me, unfortunately***.
*yes I know it’s not a real word.
**not a real word either.
***that one’s a real word.
Extra, extra, clickallaboutit!
Read an extract.
Blurbs, a different extract and book trailer here.
Brief video interview about the novel with Lottie Moggach. (Where you can also find out how to pronounce her surname.)
Tess’ advice to Leila:
‘Firstly,’ she said, ‘you’re not as crap as you think you are.’
‘I don’t think I’m crap!’ I said.
She shushed me, and carried on with her list. ‘Wait until a man has been divorced a year before you think about going near him. It’s OK to dislike your family. You’ll spend your life chasing the feeling of your first line of coke. It’s worth spending money on a good haircut.’
Connor to Tess:
I’m not trying to guilt trip you, I just want to be honest. You make me want to be honest. I was absolutely devastated when you ended it. Beyond gutted. I pretended that it wasn’t such a big deal, that I knew we weren’t suited, that I agreed with whatever bullshit rationale you used – ‘we don’t make each other the best possible versions of ourselves’ or whatever. But you did make me the best ‘me’. I honestly think I knew then that you were it, my chance for the life I wanted, and that I’d blown it (I still don’t know how exactly) and that the rest of my life would be a compromise.
Songs that have nothing to do with this post:
Girls kissing girls …
Jill Sobule – I Kissed a Girl (1995 – nooooot Katy Crappy Perry)
Jen Foster – I Didn’t Just Kiss Her
Kate Nash – Kiss That Grrrl
Coeur de Pirate – Kissed a Girl (Katy Perry Cover)