My Rating: 5 / 5
Format: Paperback courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date: 1 July 2013
Category: Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Extent: 256 pages
“Leila has never met Tess, but she now knows more about Tess than anyone in the world. She’s read all of her emails, researched her past and asked Tess for every detail about her friends and family.
Tess has never met Leila. But if she wants to slip away from the world unnoticed, she needs to trust Leila with her life.
At first, Leila finds it easy to assume Tess’s identity, and no one has any reason to distrust her. But as Leila is soon to discover, there is much more to a person than the facts and there are things about life you can learn only by living it . . .
Original, haunting and utterly gripping, Kiss Me First is an electrifying debut from a phenomenally gifted storyteller.”
Summary and Thoughts
This brilliantly original debut by Lottie Moggach, is a timely novel with two current issues at its heart. The first, the fact that we live in a digital age where social media has become a means of networking with individuals we have never met, thus begging the question “Do you really know who you are interacting with online” and the second, a sensitive subject for many and one which has garnered countless moral, religious, legal and human rights debates the world over – voluntary euthanasia!
Leila, our narrator, was an only child. Intelligent albeit socially inept and just a little naive, having led a sheltered life in which taking care of her mother, who suffered with Multiple Sclerosis, was a priority, she is a loner, still mourning the loss of her mother and is content to work from home doing freelance computer programming work and getting lost in the world of her favourite online game. When she discovers a website called Red Pill where like-minded people come together on the forum, passionately discussing diverse ethical and philosophical topics, she begins to feel comfortable in the company of “friends” chatting about subjects she has an interest and passion for, instead of lurking on Facebook where she only has seventy-three friends and none of them would be interested in what she has to say anyway.
After a particular ethical discussion, of which she is passionate about, captures her attention on the forum and she posts her thoughts, she is at once noticed by the founder of the website, Adrian Dervish, a somewhat elusive online presence and, according to another member of the forum, one not to be provoked. When he sends her a message requesting a meeting to discuss an issue relating to her post, she is thrilled that someone has taken the time to notice her. But his proposition is one which she needs a little time to think about – to take on the online persona of Tess, a forty year old woman who would like to “check out”.
As the narrative progresses, we see Leila accepting Adrian’s proposition and embarking on her journey to become Tess whilst still struggling with her own issues of self-identity and I began to empathise with her as she whole-heartedly delved into all aspects of Tess’ life in order to convincingly take over the online presence of this beautiful, sexy and confident older woman. As the two strands of the story converge, and a series of distressing encounters and discoveries throws Leila into turmoil, she begins to realise that no-one can ever truly “be” another person.
I really liked the premise of this novel which I thought to be quite unique and, throughout the narrative, found myself continually asking myself questions about what I would have done. On the one hand, there is the issue of social media and the ever-increasing effect it has on our lives as families begin to separate and create new lives for themselves, sometimes many thousands of kilometres away from each other. Living in a society where families are fracturing and losing touch with one another more and more, what Leila did in taking over Tess’ online persona, for me, was absolutely plausible. However, in my life, and while I wouldn’t even consider doing what Tess did, with the close-knit family I have? Impossible! I have a husband and two children and, my mother may live about half a world away from me, but I speak to her on a weekly basis.
On the other hand there is the voluntary euthanasia aspect which, as a Christian, I in no way advocate, but with Lottie Moggach and her family having had to consider this issue in the past and, in drawing on her memories, she writes what she knows, bringing the subject to life as she explores the cause and effect through Leila and Tess’ characters. Clearly making it an interesting subject to read about from a terminally ill sufferer’s point of view, Ms Moggach remains subjective, leaving it up to the reader to take away from her novel what they will.
Well-crafted with thought-provoking and powerful issues at its heart, this emerging author has written an insightful story about the depths of grief and suffering, loneliness and that fundamental human need to belong, which I would highly recommend to both young and old.
I wish to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for providing me with a first edition hard copy.
A Little About the Author
Lottie Moggach is a journalist who has written for The Times, Financial Times, Time Out, Elle, GQ and The London Paper.
She lives in north London.
Kiss Me First is her first novel.
If you would like to find out more about Lottie Moggach and Kiss Me First, please head over to Pan Macmillan’s website by clicking here.
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