Kiss Me First is a psychological mystery bent on twisting and turning using digital media. The concept is utterly intriguing when described like this, but in reality it doesn’t quite hit the spot. I don’t want to ruin the plot because I didn’t have a clue what the main storyline being led to was for the first fifty pages, whether intentionally by Moggach or not, or even my fault as the reader; I certainly didn’t find the book’s blurb very explanatory. Therefore, suffice to say Leila is a total recluse after her mum dies but is soon asked to be part of “Project Tess” with a view to online impersonation.
Billed as ‘a brilliant thriller for anyone who’s ever been online’ (India Knight), it is undoubtedly very original and interesting, but it is still far from perfection. Kiss Me First is led by a young woman who spends a lot of time on her computer, sure, with Facebook, World of Warcraft and Red Pill, a philosophical forum, but she is so generally clueless about society that she is hardly the best vehicle for us to view these networks through.
Almost every time Leila interacts with another person, if they talk about something ‘cool’ then she doesn’t remotely fathom it, and she takes everything much too literally. Frankly, I began to suspect she may have a developmental disorder due to her way of living and thought processes- whether we were supposed to figure this out for ourselves or it was unintentional when writing the character, we may never know, but it makes Leila even harder to relate to. Unfortunately, my biggest problem with the book was her voice which prevailed throughout- she was just so consistently analytical and matter of fact, even about emotion and death, that it just got too grating. Also, were we still supposed to root for her when she turned into a crazy stalker? That’s when my belief was ultimately suspended.
It’s a shame that these issues are so prevalent and hard to overlook because there are some very commendable ideas within the book. The media reaction to claims against Adrian, Red Pill’s founder, are spot on, for example. Similarly, the life given to London and all the people surrounding Leila who are more ‘normal’ emphasises her sad life. Her flatmate Jonty is the biggest breath of fresh air, despite often being described repetitively as grinning and bouncing around.
Although this was possibly a necessary step in incorporating the more chilling and detached side of our social media age into literature, there is still a way to go to make such references feel as natural as they do to us now in our day to day lives. Every time a like or a private message was mentioned, for example, it only made the narrative feel clumsy and as though Leila should be feeling self-conscious about these actions even though she does them literally every day.
As Moggach’s debut novel she shows a lot of potential, especially if she continues to choose such daring subjects (the internet, suicide, false identities) and learns as she goes forward, so her next novel may still be one to watch.