SPeaking at an event in 2016, Sally Rooney said: “I don’t know how I could make the time I waste on Facebook literary. It is possible that a really good writer can do that very interesting. But for me, the endless scroll […] it’s really hard to elevate that to something beautiful. “We’ve been waiting for the novel that makes the endless scroll literary. With Lauren Oyler’s Fake accounts, we may have found it. Is a brilliant comic novel about the ways in which the internet confuses all of our inland rivers while polluting the seas of the outside world, and how these processes can be one and the same. Coming the same month as Patricia Lockwood None Is talking about this, could help usher in the era of really good internet novels, and not a moment too soon.
The narrator of Fake accounts is a woman, millennial, based in Brooklyn, admitting to a “disgrace of privilege”, avowedly “reeling […] on the border between the nice and the disgusting ”. She is very aware of her status as a narrator of a novel. The sections are called things like “Beginning” or “Middle (something happens)”. There is an imaginary audience of ex-boyfriends. I’m doing It sounds curiously postmodern or vaguely parodic, but it isn’t.
For one thing, it’s a lot of fun. There are two sex scenes (each labeled “Sex Scene”); in one of them, in the middle of a blow job, the narrator writes: “I got sad.” Meeting with a project manager: “I asked about project management as if I didn’t know it was silly.” Also, the descriptive prose is casually great. In Berlin: “The light turned everything into a creepy blackboard, no matter what time of day, as if it had always rained or you had just cried.”
As for the plot, the book is about what happens when the narrator, spying on her boyfriend Felix’s phone, discovers his secret life as an online conspiracy theorist. Soon after, Felix dies in a bicycle accident. It’s 2016: Trump, kitty hats, the Resistance. The narrator moves to Berlin, where she grows her own fake accounts, this time on dating websites. She makes up new identities (completing the “eugenic sidebar on my height, body type, eye color, ethnicity”) and tests them out on dates with men. This might teach her (and us) about her and her place in the world, or it might not. What does it mean to give a false account of yourself? Is there a difference between doing it online and doing it in real life? Felix’s death has barely sparked a flicker on the narrator’s self-analysis radar screen, and yet something is definitely going on.
Fake accounts It is Oyler’s first novel; Until now it has been known as the kind of combative literary criticism that writers hate and readers love. His insight and firm disregard for the subtleties of literary politicking can be traced back to criticism from Elizabeth Hardwick or Mary McCarthy. She is a talented cultural analyst and her first novel is, among other things, a fascinating work of cultural analysis. Every sentence counts. In a Berlin bookstore, the narrator meets a Los Angeles artist named Nell, who describes her “artistic concerns” as “refraction.” A blow to the hipster pretense? Partly, but refraction is also Oyler’s artistic concern. She writes about the strange and refractory continuity between IRL and online that marks the present moment: the way we ping-pong between the offline and online experience; how these two worlds blend into each other and shape our inner lives, even when we shape our outer lives using online tools.
Fake accounts It is based on the idea that, in the online age, all interpretation projects (of the self, of the world, of other people’s motives) are almost instantly exhausted, leaving behind only an unsolvable ambiguity. There are too many takes. There are too many fake accounts. “I’m always coming up with too many possibilities,” says the narrator, “which makes it look like I’m lying.” This is, of course, precisely the effect produced by the hot-take culture. Because each event now immediately germinates, via social media, in a jungle with no hot shot leads, no true vision is possible and it all ends up feeling like bait and change. As Oyler knows, this too is often felt by consciousness now. What does it mean when the self is the network is the world? Are the stories we give of ourselves in this context really “real”?
A final plot twist abruptly pushes us out of this closed loop and presents us with a world that is increasingly (to borrow Joseph Conrad’s phrase) an “enigmatic spectacle.” Fake accounts is a novel about the enigmatic spectacle of our extremely online world that is both enigmatic and spectacular: a dark comedy about a dark age and a prismatically intelligent work of art.
• Kevin Power’s new novel White City will be published by Scribner in April. Fake Accounts is a post by HarperCollins (£ 12.99). To purchase a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism