Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

In brief: Leila’s a loner after her mum dies. She discovers a website called Red Pill and then is asked to become Tess, a real person who wants to disappear. How will she manage this?

The good: Highly original premise, very modern.

The not-so-good: I liked Tess more than Leila!

Why I chose it: Prize from Pan Macmillan – thank you!

Year: 2013

Pages: 289 (ARC)

Publisher: Picador

Setting: London, England and Spain

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Kiss Me First is an awesome, original book. Lottie Moggach (daughter of Deborah Moggach) has taken our modern lives and created a wonderful novel out of the complications of technology. Just think – what if your friend posting Facebook status updates, emails and photos wasn’t actually your friend, but a stranger employed to do so? If that stranger had worked incredibly hard to become your online presence so you could disappear unnoticed?

Kiss Me First is the story of that stranger. Leila is a lonely young lady after the unfortunate death of her mother. She lives alone in a flat above an Indian restaurant, working as a data/program tester. With few ‘real’ friends, most of her life is conducted online. It is there she discovers the online forum Red Pill, becoming comfortable as a prolific poster in a community that discusses philosophy and ethics. Eventually, she is singled out to carry out Project Tess – to impersonate Tess online for a number of months. Leila throws herself into the project, making fastidious notes of Tess’s emails, Facebook and personal history. She writes lists of questions to ask Tess on Skype before she leaves. When Tess does depart, Leila continues with the utmost devotion, almost becoming Tess…

This is a wonderfully innovative story. We’ve all heard of identity theft, but just how many people are out there pretending to be another real person online? As the plot develops and Leila becomes more involved in Tess’s life, the book begins to feel creepier and creepier. Moggach reveals Leila’s personality in bite-size chunks, feeding the reader just enough to start wondering, just who is Leila? We know the basics – she likes computers, hoodies and doesn’t have a boyfriend. But gradually we learn that she’s more than just socially awkward and only ate vegetables once a year at her grandmother’s. (That just struck me as odd. My mother – nor grandmothers- would have never have let me get away with that!) Some of the things Leila did later in the book made me feel rather uncomfortable and I wondered what was going on in her head…is she just naïve or is there something else going on?

In comparison, Tess freely admits that she has a few problems. Drinking, men, drugs, doing crazy stuff, arguing with her mother…it seems to Leila that Tess has done it all. She is beautiful, with lovely clothes and a number of gorgeous friends that always want to hang out. Underneath the craziness, Tess has a good heart – seen by the way she tries to teach Leila a thing or two but she’s really the exact opposite to Leila. Leila knows this and perhaps that’s why she decides to take on being Tess…

As for the other characters, they are a wonderful mish-mash of the delightful (Jonty) to the creepy (Adrian). Jonty, who befriends Leila despite her best intentions, is happy go lucky, friendly and plain good fun. I thought he added a lightness to the novel which was needed at times, especially towards the end. Adrian, the webmaster of Red Pill, runs hot and cold. Sometimes I thought his aim was to bed Leila and at other times, to dispose of her. Considering Leila found both these men through the Internet, it shows the range you can get!

There are quite a few ethical and moral dilemmas thrown up too in Kiss Me First, such as voluntary euthanasia and topics discussed by the Red Pill forum members. Not only will the book get you thinking about where you stand, but it adds in random statements from Leila that force you to reconsider. Very clever!

A thriller for the modern age, Kiss Me First will make you think next time you read social media!

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