Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon.
Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship. A Talented Mr. Ripley for the digital age, this seductive story takes a classic tale of obsession and makes it irresistibly new.
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Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton is a 2018 Doubleday publication.
Unorthodox – but very effective!
Louise Wilson is one birthday away from thirty, working three jobs to stay afloat, living a dull, uneventful life. Through a tutoring job, she meets Lavinia, a rich young woman taking a break from her ivy league education. Lavinia pulls Louise into her vivid, and lavish world, all of which is expediently documented on social media. Louise caters to Lavinia’s every whim which earns her a chance to be her roommate and live a far more comfortable and exciting life. But, keeping Lavinia happy is nearly a full- time job, causing Louise to lose her real jobs, one by one. To stay in Lavinia’s world and maintain her new lifestyle, Louise will make some terrible decisions, getting in deeper and deeper, only to discover Lavinia may be looking to replace Louise with someone else. There is only one option left for Louise, but will she really go through with it? Can she pull it off and if so- for how long?
I had heard a few wild and crazy stories about this book, which of course meant I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. While I knew going in the book was ‘off the beaten path’, I never could have imagined just how far off the path it would go.
First of all, the book gets high marks because of its originality. We have an unusual, unnamed narrator who tells the story from hindsight, dropping big and small hints along the way about what will happen next. This is a unique approach, very seductive, pulling the reader in, even if they aren’t especially enthralled with the lead characters. Social consciousness, sympathy, empathy, or the slightest regard for other people never even enters their minds. They are all shallow, immature, greedy, and weak in one way or another. But, despite that, I sat there turning pages, totally absorbed in the cat and mouse game that ensues, all the while thinking these people weren’t really worth my time or effort.
But, of course, I did enjoy spying on these two women, and the inner circle of people surrounding them, as they posture and preen, backstab, and jockey for position, because it has an atmosphere of reality to it. Our society is so fixated on social media and creating an impossible image of themselves for others to admire. It’s all so phony, and easily manipulated. But, there really are lots of ‘Louise’s’ out there, too. While we can view Lavinia and her friends with a certain detachment, for Louise, who is lonely and insecure, barely scraping by, this lifestyle that Lavinia as invited her into, is more than she could have hoped for and she’s desperate to maintain it- at any cost. It’s a sad commentary, and a very realistic one on many levels.
While the story starts off a little slow, the second half of the book is riveting, and the suspense is nearly unbearable at times. However, there is a slight satirical tone to the story at times, with a touch of black humor thrown if for good measure.
For those who detest a novel filled with unredeemable characters, this one will test your patience, but the author takes it a step further by throwing in an unsettling conclusion that is sure to frustrate those who like everything all tidied up the old- fashioned way. But, then there are people like me who see the irony in it, the truth in it, and absolutely revel in all that darkness and uncertainty.
So, while this book may not be the right fit for everyone, and the writing was a bit uneven in some spots, I thought it was ingenious. I’ll be keeping my eye on this author.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
TARA ISABELLA BURTON is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Winner of the
Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for Travel Writing, she completed her doctorate in 19th century French literature and theology at the University of Oxford and is a prodigious travel writer, short story writer and essayist for National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist's 1843 and more. She currently works for Vox as their Religion Correspondent, lives in New York, and divides her time between the Upper East Side and Tbilisi, Georgia. She is also at work on a nonfiction book on cults. Her first novel, Social Creature, is forthcoming from Doubleday in June.