Follower by Megan Angelo : Fascinating, gripping and original, this is one of the cleverest, and most unsettling, books you will read this year - book review -
Imagine existing in a reality television hell in which almost your every waking – and sleeping – hour is broadcast live to millions of hyper-critical social media followers?
That is exactly what exciting new US author Megan Angelo does in a stunning, futuristic debut novel which has been billed as ‘1984 for the Instagram generation,’ and delivers a coruscating indictment of our internet and celebrity-obsessed culture.
With more than a touch of irony perhaps, Followers is a truly addictive, darkly funny read, alternating seamlessly between high-octane Manhattan in 2015 and a superbly portrayed dystopian world of 2051 in which hand-picked celebrities live their lives on camera in a closed Californian community.
Brimming with dark humour and razor-sharp observations on the shadowy side of social media, Angelo’s complex, immaculately plotted story cleverly weaves together the two timelines as we are plunged into the before and after of a terrifyingly credible techno-cataclysm.
In 2015 Manhattan, 28-year-old Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck blogging for a website called Lady-ish about movie-star romances and influencer yoga moves, receiving bonuses for stories that clock up more than five million views in a day.
After six years, she is sick of being ‘pounded’ by New York and is in need of a shortcut to fame… ‘a way to be someone who had done something without having to actually do it.’
And then her new room-mate, the ‘strange, scheming’ Floss Natuzzi, a talentless bar singer who longs to be an A-list celebrity, comes up with a gloriously unethical plan to grab themselves hundreds of freebies, and simultaneously launch them both into the successful, high-profile lives they so desperately crave.
‘It’s not enough to be talented,’ declares Floss. ‘It’s not enough to work hard. You need to be disciplined, and you need to be ruthless.’
Thirty-six years later, and after a catastrophic event that sent America into lasting upheaval, 35-year-old Marlow Clipp, who lives in the TV network-run village of Constellation, where government-appointed celebrities live almost every moment on camera, discovers a shattering secret about her past.
Despite her massive popularity – with over twelve million followers– Marlow hates having her every move judged by a national audience and dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen.
And when she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons up the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks. But when everyone is watching , you can run, but you can’t hide…
A gripping and cautionary tale, written with heart, head and the assurance of a seasoned novelist, Followers is also a book of many parts, offering an incisive exploration of social media obsession, and an entertaining, contemporary odyssey with a thrilling finale.
Angelo handles some of the modern world’s most vexing questions with sensitivity, humour and understanding by bringing us a superbly imagined near-future, and a vibrant cast of characters, each making us laugh or despair, but each conveying important messages about the way we live our lives.
Fascinating, gripping and original, this is one of the cleverest, and most unsettling, books you will read this year.
(HQ, paperback, £8.99)