In brief: Louise is barely clinging on in New York – no money, rubbish jobs, no boyfriend or friends. Then she meets Lavinia, who has everything – and is happy to share. Suddenly, Louise is Somebody – but how far will she need to go to maintain her status?
The good: The story is like a The Talented Mr Ripley tale for the social media age.
The not-so-good: Devoured this in one day.
Why I chose it: I heard really good things (on social media, of course) so I bought it.
Setting: New York City
Rating: 7 out of 10
I hadn’t heard much about Social Creature until I started to see some buzz on social media about it. With the sparkly gold and silver cover, how could I resist? I went straight to the shops and bought it, then sat down to read it. The story isn’t all sparkles (see those splotches of red? They aren’t red confetti.). In fact, at times the story is wonderfully squirmy and uncomfortable. At others, the plot moves so slowly that it seems suspended in time.
The characters of Social Creature aren’t particularly likeable and I think they are meant to be that way. Louise is your typical struggling person in New York – rubbish jobs, rubbish apartment and living from one measly pay check to the next. The only thing is that Louise isn’t fresh out of college, she’s heading to 30 fast. So her hand to mouth existence seems even more pitiful. We’re told at length that Louise isn’t pretty, isn’t special or…anything really. She wants to be a writer, but she’s not writing. She doesn’t really have friends, she doesn’t really date. She just…exists. Then Louise meets Lavinia through her sister Cordelia. Lavinia is the life of the party, full of exuberance, affection and money. She’s gorgeous with fantastical clothing. Lavinia is everything Louise wishes she was. Lavinia takes a shine to Louise and suddenly she is one of the in crowd. There are so many parties, interesting people, loads of alcohol and non-stop fun. It’s great until Louise starts losing jobs, until she needs money. Until that fateful night…how far will Louise go to exist in that world?
You can probably guess that Louise does go to a great extent to stay within her newly discovered sphere. At first, it’s fun. Then it becomes kinda weird. Then…well, it all goes kinda Mr Ripley on us. Remember The Talented Mr Ripley book, or perhaps the film (Matt Damon/Jude Law)? This is that story, told in the age of social media. Tom Ripley would have been in his element should social media have existed in his time. As Louise finds, it’s so easy to prove an existence through Facebook check-ins and Instagram posts. And as Louise dissolves into a twin life of ‘gramming across two phones, we find out more about her character. It’s not stuff to be proud of.
I have mixed emotions about this novel. It made me really uncomfortable in some parts as I saw the train wreck coming, which I think is a strength of Tara Isabella Burton’s writing. The characters are truly unlikeable (even poor Cordelia, who is possibly the straightest person in the whole book) which again takes talent. The plot was not as strong in my opinion. We’ve seen it before and read it before. The social media touches are definitely relevant and a nice commentary on how people don’t speak as much anymore. Louise’s passion to be…what? Famous, rich, popular? It didn’t really come through for me. Sometimes I felt she was just ticking boxes based on past deeds and what was ‘expected’ of her. It’s an interesting concept, but it didn’t quite sparkle as much for me.