Book Review: Kiss Me First

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Author: Lottie Moggach
ISBN: 978-1-4472-3566-8
RRP: $29.99

Kiss Me First is an interesting and kind of scary debut from journalist Lottie Moggach. This is a premise that raises many moral questions and just as many about the lives we live online.

How well do you really know the people you are interacting with online? This is a question I’m sure we have all had reason to ponder at times, especially when we are meeting new people online. But what about the people you know in real life?

Lottie Moggach has brought many elements forward into the technical age in a way which is as deeply disturbing as it is gripping. Once I was immersed in this novel there was no getting out, and I didn’t want to. I found myself thinking about it as I went about my day because as disturbing as it is, it could happen.

Leila is quite young, I can’t remember how young and I’m not certain we found out for sure but she wasn’t too long out of school. She has been quite sheltered so her naivety and lack of life experience are more important factors than her chronological age I think. She has grown up with a single mother, has few friends and rarely socialises so when she loses her mother she finds herself spending more and more time online. I can speak from experience when I say that when you first live alone, depending on your personality, you find yourself sitting at the computer more because of how much extra free time you have. Leila started with a World of Warcraft habit and because the game is interactive she found herself in a guild and chatting with strangers behind the scenes. This led to an invitation to another website, one for philosophical debate and ruled by reason and logic.

Leila’s rational thinking and personal philosophies get her noticed by website leader Adrian Dervish, and approached with a proposition that when put logically and set out factually sounds reasonable though morally rather grey.

Tess is older, approaching forty, and ready to leave life behind but doesn’t want to hurt those she will leave behind. She sets up an arrangement whereby Leila will assume her identity. We get to know her well through her interactions with Leila in the lead up because Leila needs to know everything. She needs to collect the facts but she also need to be on top of the reactions and the characteristics and the mannerisms which I think, sitting here mulling it all over now, is in a lot of ways a simpler task in the cyber age because you can take handwriting out of the equation.

kiss me first

Leila studiously maps everything out, asks a million questions and gets everything sorted in readiness; believing that as long as she has all of the concrete things mapped then they can manage this. She does have some reservations and some areas that she believes could present problems but no-one else recognises the danger so the plans continue and all goes ahead.

Taking over the online identity becomes Leila’s entire life, she becomes Tess and many lines seem to blur. Leila learns more about life from being Tess than she may ever have learned on her own.

The style of writing employed by Moggach captured me because it’s written about a year later. Things have changed, though we aren’t quite sure why, and Leila has taken off looking for signs of Tess so we are with her in 2011 on her quest, and she is writing an account of everything that happened so we are following the path of the past at the same time until the two threads meet near the end.

I was totally invested in this book; it made me think, it horrified me and it definitely had me thinking through the what ifs. It opens up a huge scope of debate and it is a totally unique premise.

Leila is described in the latter part of the narrative, which happens to be throughout the book, as vulnerable, naive and manipulated. All of these descriptions fit when you have all of the pieces though Leila doesn’t see herself this way. We see Leila through her own eyes because this is written in the first person so we see the strength in her convictions, her belief in the project and her philosophies – and we discover later on just how some of those came about. I didn’t see her as vulnerable or manipulated. She made some morally questionable decisions and I don’t know that I could ever agree to totally become someone else online to allow them to suicide without anyone knowing but she really made me believe that she did it because she believed in Tess’ right to make that decision for herself.

Moggach wrote Kiss Me First extremely convincingly with three dimensional characters in Tess and Leila, a narrative that would be brilliant for book clubs to spark intense debate and intelligent questioning of your own philosophies and beliefs to some extent. At the same time I am left with some questions that I would have liked answers to.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone, except maybe internet conspiracy believers because it may just be a little too much fuel for their fire.

I can completely understand how this book came to be involved in a major eleven publisher auction in the UK and I will definitely be on the look out for any new publications by Lottie Moggach.

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