Leila is not what you'd call a popular person. Even though she's only 23, she barely has any friends --- either in real life or on Facebook. She has spent much of the past several years caring for her ailing mother, who has recently died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, and has a lonely, pointless job testing software at home. Leila --- who, by all accounts but her own, is an overweight, unattractive young woman --- finds most of her social interaction via online forums where she can remain anonymous or even take on a different persona. At first, role-playing games like World of Warcraft hold the most attraction, but eventually, she finds an online community called Red Pill.
Red Pill is a forum devoted to the discussion and debate of philosophy, mostly from a libertarian perspective. Run by a man named Adrian Dervish, an aloof but charismatic figure whose podcast further draws in Leila, Red Pill seems to be the perfect venue for this lonely young woman. Especially when her input is valued and admired by other forum members (and even by Adrian himself), Leila finds herself spending more and more time on Red Pill and even less in real life.
"KISS ME FIRST is undoubtedly a novel of the moment, as it explores the fuzzy lines between online obsession and cyberstalking, between online identity and one's authentic self."
But eventually, Adrian does contact Leila to see if she wants to meet face to face, and when she does, he has a most unusual proposal for her. Members of the Red Pill community seem to agree that suicide can be a legitimate choice, and that individuals who want to commit suicide should not only be free to do so, but should be supported in their decision. Leila's own comments online --- not to mention her history with her mother's terminal illness --- have shown that she agrees with this position.
Adrian has met a woman named Tess who desperately wants to kill herself. The only thing holding her back is the worry over the hurt and sorrow she will cause her friends and family if she commits suicide. That's where Leila comes in. If she can assume Tess's online identity, if she can internalize Tess's voice and history, she can help maintain the illusion that Tess is not dead --- she's just on a remote Canadian island, finding herself.
After only the briefest hesitation, Leila throws herself wholeheartedly into the project, learning everything she can about Tess, her family, and her friends. But after Tess disappears and Leila is left to become Tess, will she cross the line and go too far?
It's hard to believe that this is Lottie Moggach's debut novel. After an initially disorienting opener, the story unfolds surprisingly yet confidently, alternating between Leila's present quest --- on a commune in Spain --- and her recent past. Leila's intense and self-deluding first-person narration is reminiscent of the psychological suspense novels of Barbara Vine. KISS ME FIRST is undoubtedly a novel of the moment, as it explores the fuzzy lines between online obsession and cyberstalking, between online identity and one's authentic self.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 26, 2013