Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts is the first of two novels taking a swipe at social media’s pervasive influence that caught my eye in February’s publishing schedules. I’ll be reviewing the other next week. Set in 2016 with Trump freshly elected, Oyler’s debut follows her unnamed narrator who is shocked to find that her apparently liberal boyfriend is running a popular conspiracy theory website.
Our narrator has been itching to get her hands on Felix’s phone, each night stashed carefully under his pillow. Grabbing a rare opportunity, she’s horrified by what she finds deciding it’s the push she’s needed to dump this man she met eighteen months ago on holiday in Berlin. Our narrator spends much of her time scrolling social media, both at leisure and at work, blogging for a website intent on hits rather than featuring the lengthy, challenging content she knows she can deliver. Shortly after the website drops her, a shocking piece of news sends her back to Berlin, no plan in mind, where she drifts among ex-pats, failing to make friends and refusing to learn German before launching herself into the dating app world, turning the depressing stream of men who want only to talk about themselves into a project. Her mornings are spent babysitting, her afternoons wandering around the city, the times in between scrolling. Then an astonishing revelation jolts her out of her aimlessness.
But a careless little bitch who didn’t know what she was talking about is not as bad as what I actually was: someone who would rather other people think of her as a careless little bitch who didn’t know what she was talking about than not think of her at all
Oyler frames her book as the novel her narrator has decided to write to help her understand herself better. Sarcastic, self-regarding and unreliable, she’s not a character for readers who need to like their narrator. She’s snippy, narcissistic, over-analytical, self-consciously ironic and often very funny. We spend much of our time in her head leaving little room for other characters, most of whom our narrator hasn’t much time for. It took me quite a while to get into Oyler’s dense narrative style and its presentation – long sentences and few paragraphs – but its snarkiness made me persevere. A smart, clever book, devastating in its take down of our obsession with social media, it was a borderline read for me, partly because of that density but also because the novel felt too long drawn-out. Not a book that will appeal to all although it clearly did to the many starry names that appear in the press release, from Zadie Smith to Catherine Lacey.
4th Estate: London 9780008366520 272 pages Hardback