by Lauren Oyler
Published February 2021
No One Is Talking About This
by Patricia Lockwood
Published March 2021
You could back-engineer any number of essays using these keywords: self-aware, self-loathing, self-perception, millennial, narcissism, white woman, privilege, social media, Brooklyn, Trump, Twitter, irony, online, extremely online, internet. They are at the centre of countless pieces about or emanating from, or about and emanating from, well — extremely online privileged millennial narcissistic Brooklyn-based white women living under the Trump administration. There’s the one about the fake heiress, the one on New York socialists, the one on hot yoga, a dozen on the personal essay, a few dozen on podcasters. Most recently, they heralded the arrival of two new novels: Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This and Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts, both released earlier this year.
In Fake Accounts, the unnamed narrator is a white woman living in Brooklyn, who uses the calamity of the Trump presidency to ‘indulge some of [her] naughtier impulses’, meaning that she snoops through her boyfriend’s phone one night and discovers that he runs a popular conspiracy-theory account on Instagram — a grab-bag of offensive tropes and stereotypes, possibly ironic, but still difficult to reconcile with her irritatingly logical, mild-mannered, probably Jewish (she’s ‘pretty sure’) beau.
In No One Is Talking About This, the narrator is an unmoored Twitter micro-celebrity, a white woman, touring the world giving lectures on ‘the new humour’. That’s the first half of the novel. In the second, she is summoned to Ohio by an urgent text from her mother: something has gone wrong with her sister’s pregnancy. She races home and stays there to see the situation through.
In the months since their publication, No One Is Talking About This and Fake Accounts have been reviewed in pretty much every major literary publication. They have been reviewed together at least six times; five reviews have either the word ‘internet’ or ‘online’ in the headline. One review of Fake Accounts checks off six of the keywords in the first six sentences. Oyler is famous for her viral takedown of Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, who has glowingly blurbed Lockwood, who recently did an event with Oyler. Zadie Smith is on the cover of Fake Accounts saying she ‘loved it’, which made me wonder if she ever got around to reading that piece on Tolentino, in which Oyler approvingly quotes James Wood’s ‘Hysterical Realism’ essay, a disparaging term he coined to describe Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. It’s a tiny sample-size that seems to constitute a whole universe; you could be forgiven for thinking that Oyler and Lockwood are the only two people currently writing and releasing books about the internet; that Oyler and Lockwood are the only two people currently writing and releasing books at all.
If you read Oyler’s and Lockwood’s novels to learn about the internet, you will learn that people can be duplicitous on social media, that conspiracy theories spawn and spread there, that millennials can’t stop scrolling, that Twitter is full of dumb jokes, that forums radicalise alienated young men, that the internet is changing the way we speak and think. Tell us something we don’t know. In fact, both Oyler and Lockwood’s novels feel pre-emptively dated, as do many of the reviews, for their insistence on presenting the internet as a novel phenomenon, even though the internet has been part of everyday life since the late 1990s. In her memoir Priestdaddy, Lockwood says that she has been online since 2002. I don’t have any hard data on Oyler, but she’s thirty-ish, and I’m thirty, and by the time I was fourteen I had made my first MySpace. These books are not of the moment, or the future; they are books about the recent past.
It’s not that the words listed at the beginning of this review are inaccurate, exactly. It’s that they limit what a reader can get out of these books. I would go so far as to say that neither is a very good internet novel, and that neither demands to be read as one. They are concerned with being ‘extremely online’ only insofar as being extremely online relates to, pressurises, the axioms and banalities that haunt individuals and political discourse. In No One Is Talking About This, Lockwood looks squarely at how this process functions in language. In Fake Accounts, Oyler satirises the political and ethical void of the contemporary American left. In both novels, the internet acts as a setting, a motor of plot, a language, and a theme, but it is not the central concern, just the most immediately visible one.
Sometime during lockdown, I attended a Zoom event for Fake Accounts run by an independent bookstore in the small town of Ithaca, New York State, where Oyler currently lives. It was me, Oyler, and six or seven beamingly-proud locals. As the only non-Ithacan there, I kept my camera off as a sign of respect.
At this event, Oyler said that she did not want her novel to be perfect. She meant that she did not want it to be one of those wide open plain novels planted with neat serifed rows; Kondo’ed novels, with each sentence primed to elicit an awed gasp, and paragraphs swimming in white space. She said that she’s not into cleanness. She wanted her novel to feel like a novel—with characters, scenes, a beginning, middle, and end—rather than like Twitter; that if she wanted to write like Twitter, she would just Tweet; that the internet is its own form, and trying to change the novel to fit the internet is a losing battle.
What makes a novel feel like a novel? Isn’t one of the hallmarks of the form its capaciousness, its ability to absorb aberrations, other forms? But Oyler means something specific: the big, plotty, character-driven nineteenth-century realist novel. This kind of novel follows a particular embodied consciousness as it interacts with concrete, directly-apprehended objects, some of which stand in the way of it acquiring or keeping other objects. So, for instance, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment wants money and also to kill the pawnbroker, while the police want to catch him, and all of this occurs in a highly rendered version of St Petersburg.
Fake Accounts pretty closely fits this formula. At its centre is the narrator, a curmudgeonly solo unit who works in media, lives in Brooklyn, does yoga once a week. She is wedged resolutely into her time and place. Her mind rolls out in all directions, pushing beyond the limits of her experiences — but even so, she maps this territory with her body. Specificity hounds her: she eats spruitjes at a Dutch restaurant, her office is stocked with Peanut MnMs, and Bruce Springsteen plays on the car radio. Continuity hounds her: she moves from her bedroom to the lounge room back to the bedroom; from a packed subway up the steps to the Women’s March, and then onto the Dutch restaurant; from the S-bahn to the Visa office. The would-be white space in this novel is filled instead with transitions. Reading these sequences feels a little like walking through Ikea; you know where you’re going, but you’re forced to do the whole loop to get there.
The narrator doesn’t want anything in a big way, and by the standards of classic-novel-writing this might make Fake Accounts a flop. But as a skewering of contemporary millennial reality, it’s a success. If your life and the life of your mind revolves around close, detailed observations as you slip through undifferentiated days (the kind you especially experience as a new transplant to a foreign city, as an under-employed writer), you will want to fill and punctuate that life with detail. She wants to make pancakes with fancy ingredients; she wants to sleep with the hot tour guide; she wants to go to Berlin. She wants small, immediate things, nothing hefty enough to pull her through the plot, which is powered instead by these increments.
Oyler is adept at writing these increments. The only problem is that Oyler-as-critic keeps intruding, disrupting the scene with an impromptu culture essay. On page 59, the narrator attends a yoga class and spends a paragraph thinking about her relationship to yoga. The same page, the yoga teacher mentions that she will be attending the Women’s March. As she leaves the studio, the narrator feels compelled, now, to attend the March too, and for the next two pages expounds on why she had so far failed to feel this compulsion. Then she texts her boyfriend Felix to tell him that in D.C she will stay with her friend Jeremy, who is gay, and who Felix doesn’t believe is gay; cue long paragraph considering the nuances of sexuality and labelling. It would be fine a few times, but the repetition gets cloying. Just when the digression begins to get somewhere interesting, or funny, the reader is booted back into the concrete present; likewise, when the action picks up, it is disrupted by the essaying. Exposition and action are in lockstep, and both feel trapped, rather than expanded, by the other.
Adding to this sense of claustrophobia are Oyler’s sentences, which are often multi-claused and a little arcane in their watertight grammatical correctness. One Oyler sentence goes like this: ‘Blistered and home I laid on the floor in my bedroom and tried to work up the necessary courage, saying to myself in my head several times that I would get up after ten more seconds’. You could almost break it down by meter: ‘Blistered and home / I laid on the floor…’. It’s not the flattened language of the consumer internet as Tao Lin does it, but of the back-end, of code, grammar as logical procedure, which is what grammar is anyway. This doesn’t mean Fake Accounts isn’t funny. Oyler gets her punchlines in: ‘People often say my generation values authenticity. Reluctantly I will admit to being a member of my generation’. After she decides to decamp to Berlin, the narrator delays telling anyone about it for a few days: ‘When I finally did mention the ticket to Berlin, my friends, their minds narrowed by therapy, urged me not to go’. Whatever her mode, the sentences draw attention to the mechanics of the sentence; her narrator is always parsing her experience and the prose reflects her combing analytic mind.
In No One Is Talking About This, Lockwood too maintains a detailed focus on the minutiae of daily life, while asking what the novel is when the specificity of individual thought and experience has been emptied out and replaced by generic substitutions — in this case, by the memetic language of Twitter. There are some words, she writes, that have been ‘anointed’ and ‘cannot now go back to being a regular word’ — words like ‘normalise’, ‘labour’ and ‘toxic’. Lockwood nimbly skirts these neo-banalities. She doesn’t even say ‘internet’; she calls it ‘the portal’ instead. The portal had ‘once been the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other’. Why does she hear the word ‘praxis’ when her cat sneezes? Why does she feel driven to spell ‘sneeze’ as ‘sneaze’? Why does this make, in the logic of online humour, immediate sense to her and hundreds of thousands of others? A driving question for the book is how the narrator’s mind comes to be part of the communal Mind that commandeers one’s most intimate experiences and thoughts. What Lockwood describes is less an enclosure of the commons and more like the commons fights back, enclosing the private. It produces a novel in which the particular consciousness belongs to no one in particular.
Lockwood is interested in banalities and axioms for the same reason she is interested in Twitter vernacular and memes: they are phrases that squat fully-formed in your head. And she is interested in Twitter vernacular and memes at the point at which they become banal and axiomatic. She has a rare reverence for boomer truisms that softened me towards my own parents’ speech bubbles. This is carried through from Priestdaddy where the dialogue, especially her parents’, furnishes much of the humour. You can hear in her voice the voice of the 2050s, when all the millennials will have grown up to become Generation Alpha’s boomer-equivalents.
The first half of the novel mimics the choppy currents of online discourse. It consists of small paragraphs separated by asterisks and line breaks. This is the ‘extremely online’ half, packed with Twitter jokes and references that ‘only half a percent of the people on Earth would get’. In Part 2, she arrives in Ohio to be with her sister and her family. Here the fragments grow lengthier and rangier, presumably to signify her growing offlineness, as well as the uncontainable euphoria and despair of her experiences with the baby. Across the whole book, the form feels like parataxis, but on closer inspection it’s more like anaphora; there are internal resonances between parts, from start to finish — an image that blooms on page 3 ripens on page 100.
Opening the novel for the first time, I noted the form and then barely thought of it again, partly because — like Oyler, who spends a full forty pages of her novel parodying this style, a women’s style, she claims — overexposure has made me jaded, and partly because Lockwood’s sentences are entrancing. This is the case whether you read her essays, her memoir, her poetry, her Tweets, or her novel. Writing on Nabokov for the London Review of Books, she imagines a sweating journalist (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) interviewing the esteemed writer and lepidopterist: ‘Cumberbatch’s sweating intensifies. His jumper has been nibbled by the only moths on earth that are beneath his idol’s notice.’ In No One Is Talking About This, the protagonist watches a couple with ‘matching extravagant mullets’ brushing them out at the airport: ‘these mullets were their acre and when God came down he would not find a rock, a stump, a weed.’ When the baby is in hospital on her final day alive: ‘The nurses gave her morphine and Ativan through a port in her pink heel — like mythology, as if she were immortal in every other part of her.’
In Part 2, Lockwood plugs her question about communal thought right into the heart of her characters’ desire. It never loses its throughline of longing — for the baby to keep living, for more time with the baby — even amid the internetty jokes. The baby’s mother and the narrator talk about taking the baby to the zoo — the logistics of oxygen tanks, the pleasure of showing her the animals — and her sister notes that, while there, they can also ‘mourn Harambe’. As the baby is dying, the narrator’s phone is malfunctioning to play continuous Enya, which she chose ‘perhaps because she had recently read a think-piece about her unexpected critical resurgence’. At the funeral, her brother comments that the baby was ‘a real one’, and they listen to trap music: ‘So specificity was present as a living thing, a guest’ — a communally-generated specificity, that is.
In No One Is Talking About This, Twitter has completed its fundamental restructure of the protagonist’s mind. In Fake Accounts, the portal doesn’t stand a chance of infiltrating the gridlock of Oyler’s prose. The internet is contained within the equipment that provides access to it, especially phones; these spring leaks but they never fully burst their walls. Social media, her phone, her dating profile — all are treated as objects among other objects. The prose hews to their materiality: Felix’s iPhone has ‘pleasant rounded corners’, as do the apps, which she ‘taps’ to open, all of which are ‘different colours yet somehow of equal brightness’. Four whole pages are given over to describing OkCupid’s interface as the narrator sets up her account. Again, in these sections there is an oddly intellectualised, distanced feeling, as though Oyler has been tasked both with writing a scene and a WikiHow article. (This is not a novel you feel in your body while reading. With Lockwood’s, I was weeping in the bath.) These internet-objects catalyse action. Snooping through her boyfriend’s phone leads, obliquely, to the narrator attending the Women’s March, and ultimately to Berlin. Trawling dating apps leads to her going on a series of dates. The internet gets the narrator from a to b. The world of things in Oyler’s novel remains orderly; all the mysteries are human ones.
I don’t know what happened to Americans over the last four or so years, what it was like to live in the United States during Trump’s presidency, or how consumed and/or shaken people on the ground felt day-to-day during this time, but it seems clear to me that whatever happened to good, upstanding, left-leaning Americans also happened to good, upstanding, left-leaning American fiction. ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’, maybe — or just a bad time and a micro-genre immortalising it. It feels intuitively correct to venture something called ‘the Trump novel’, and it barely needs defining, except to say the action in these novels takes place in a world left reeling in the aftermath of the 2016 election. There’s Crudo by Olivia Laing, Red Pill by Hari Kunzru, Weather by Jenny Offil, and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. Also, did you know that Hilary Clinton is co-writing a political-thriller set in a ‘post-Trump world’?
I’ll leave it to the concerned parties to haggle over its canon and refine the terms, but from over here in Australia — which gets mentioned in several recent Trump books, albeit, weirdly, in two of these as the birthplace of R.M. Williams’ work-boots — let me register an eye-roll. If I’m hesitant to define the Trump novel as a phenomenon, it’s partly because I don’t want to make Trump into a phenomenon either. I don’t want to reify through definition what the American literary intelligentsia have been doing for the last four years: staging his election as a rupture over and over again, segmenting history into ‘pre-’ and ‘post-Trump’. Meanwhile, for the rest of the world, especially those most affected by U.S foreign policy and imperialism, this dramatisation — not of Trump’s legislation but of Trump himself — is both tiring and a little insulting. Even when the Trump novel acknowledges that It’s Always Been This Bad (and they all do, usually in a pithy few lines) there are the surrounding two- or three-hundred pages that plough on regardless.
Mostly, though, my problem with the Trump novel is aesthetic. If you’re writing contemporary realist fiction, it stands to reason that you will want to reflect your setting’s political situation in the same way that you will want to have your characters using iPhones: as a means of texturing your characters’ world. You could argue that Trump is used in the same way in these books. This is what Laing does in Crudo, for example, where Trump is just one of many items on the agenda, most notably Brexit, jumbled up in the narrator’s frenetic cataloguing of modern ills as she doom-scrolls her news feeds.
But this is not really the point or function of Trump in the Trump novel. Trump in the Trump novel is spectral. He is there to cast an air of doom over people who don’t have that much doom in their lives, allowing the story to begin with its (left, liberal, educated, non-Trump-voting, internet-literate, middle-class) characters already steeped in a kind of ambient adversity that compounds and is compounded by their own personal, more minor adversities. Donald Trump as POTUS functions like the tacked-on trauma characters get as individuating backstory in bad novels and films, but here it’s a shared story, therefore vaguely structural-seeming, therefore important-seeming. Writers also do this with climate change, 9/11, and (less often now) the 2008 Global Financial Crisis: hyperobjects of catastrophe, lazily invoked. In short, set-dressing with Trump can be a way for the writer to imply high-stakes without having to raise them herself.
The internet has a special relationship to Trump. Trump was the world’s first extremely-online President. He is probably Lockwood’s only real competitor for the Twitter-laureate title. So it’s no coincidence that the novels named above are also novels of online culture. The internet is the latest bogeyman in contemporary American literary fiction. Like Trump in the Trump novel, the internet in the internet novel offers a personal climate of anxiety and hypervigilance for the characters. It is a problem that magnifies all existing problems and a spawning-ground for shadowy ideologies. As far as doom-creating situations go, it is slightly vibier than a world war, and easier for a layperson than economic collapse. It has a plethora of zany and villainous players for the author to choose from: the conspiracy-theorist, the school-shooter, the hacker, the lonely heart, the white-supremacist, the tech-bro, the CIA operative, the SJW, the billionaire. It is an all-encompassing system of control. Perhaps more importantly, it can be presented as a cutting-edge concern, and the novels that use it as prescient and timely. If reviewers swallow the spin, there’s an advantage for them too — they get to get all pith-helmety, declaring new territory, casting themselves as wide-eyed but canny translators arbitraging the distance between an alien utterance and the citizen-reader.
The internet refracts, as well, the same big questions of individual agency as Trump. What can one person do in the face of almighty structural monoliths — Amazon, Facebook, the Internet, the State? One hallmark of the extremely-online person is an inability to get offline, in spite of a professed desire to do so; you see these lamentations on Twitter every day. Several reviewers of Fake Accounts and No One Is Talking About This took pains to rehearse their own onlineness, their Twitter credentials, ruefully confessing that they understood pretty much every reference to a meme, joke, internet-spawned phrase in the books. The impotent performance of being ‘extremely online’, as though you have no say in the matter, merges with the impotence of centre-left angst. And when a character is dealing with Trump and the internet at the same time, the ambient adversity intensifies to such an extent that simply nobody can stop tweeting (Crudo) or taking car services (Weather).
Oyler is interested in what dread and doom allows the bourgeoisie to excuse in themselves. This was her problem with Trick Mirror, in which, as Oyler writes, Tolentino transmutes her ‘shoddy’ ethical decisions into ‘matters of survival’ — for example when she claims that, as a freelancer, she had to use Amazon to save time and money. Oyler criticized Weather along the same lines, arguing that the novel stages a false choice between individual survival versus collective action, and winds up endorsing an even worse compromise: ‘when the time comes, choose individual survival but feel very bad about it’.
When I asked Oyler — during a second Zoom event, this one with the writer Anna Wiener as her conversation partner — what she thought about this Trump-novel trend, and why she had decided to use Trump in her own novel, she described how in her circles in the years since Trump’s election, ‘personal moral selfishness’ had combined with ‘severe political moralising’; there was a permeating notion that everything an individual did was both of vital importance and totally impotent. You had to go to the rally, because that mattered, but it didn’t matter if you treated your friends terribly. Or you could treat your friends well and not go to the rally, because what could one person do? And so on, in shifting combinations.
In Fake Accounts, she satirises this morality, as well as the literary conventions that often attend it. Here’s how her novel begins:
Consensus was the world was ending, or would begin to end soon, if not by exponential environmental catastrophe then by some combination of nuclear war, the American two-party system, patriarchy, white supremacy, gentrification, globalization, data breaches, and social media.
Opening the next paragraph, we get the personal pronoun commenting on this consensus: ‘I didn’t believe all this, necessarily, though as the news got worse and more bizarre I wavered.’ The first action undertaken by the narrator — snooping through her boyfriend’s phone — doesn’t occur until halfway down the second page. (Oyler would never be so gauche as to begin with the personal pronoun in media res.)
Oyler’s satirical gambit prevents her from making her novel a corrective. You will not catch the narrator extolling the virtues of socialism or cleaving to the breasts of her loved ones. She is annoyed by her friends, annoyed by the people who try to befriend her, disdainful of the men she dates, pained by her fellow protestors at the Women’s March. Her family, if she has one, is never mentioned. There is no sense of intimacy between her and anyone else, except in the early days of her and Felix’s relationship, and even here the analytic intensity of the prose forces distance where another writer might attempt vulnerability. After Felix’s death, the protagonist takes herself off to Berlin and deeper into solitude. It’s like a shadow version of Wild; a young divorcee (bereaved girlfriend) embarks on an epic hike (moves to Berlin) and is healed by the experience (grows progressively more alienated).
In neurotic, secular, alienation, the life of the mind takes on primacy, its drifts and micro-fluctuations arraigned for meaning. Unlike the confessions of the early Renaissance — searching moral inventories whose object was the spiritual edification of the self by way of rooting out unholiness — the contemporary confession, Oyler seems to suggest, is its own end, a good in itself. It’s not that everything is meaningless. On the contrary, the confessor’s personal life is rich in meaning; they just don’t know what that meaning means. It’s a beautiful adjunct to conspiratorial thinking of the kind practiced by Felix, in which everything is relevant to the metanarrative insofar as it’s organised by the metanarrative. For Oyler’s protagonist, everything is significant, but dizzyingly disorganised. It could never have worked between them.
Save for the narrator and her husband, most of Lockwood’s characters in No One Is Talking About This are not particularly left, liberal, educated, internet-literate, or middle-class. Some of them voted for Trump; some of them didn’t. Her brother served in Iraq. Her father is a cop. And there is a very high stake that interacts with Trump’s America: the sick baby born in Ohio. While the baby is still in utero, legislation is introduced that makes it a felony to induce labour before 37 weeks, no matter how sick the baby or mother is. The family cannot access affordable healthcare, except for scant leftover Obamacare money. The bogeyman wreaks tangible havoc in these characters’ lives.
I said at the start of this essay that Fake Accounts and No One Is Talking About This are books that, in their depictions of the internet, feel less contemporary than historical. In both, the internet is characterised by concerns either created or pressurised by Trump: the generation and spread of conspiracies, the use of parataxis in political speech and especially in Trump’s tweets, the anxieties around whiteness in America, the proliferation of fake news, the spectrum of irony and authenticity and its performance online, the impotence of liberal politics, the spectre of fascism. Tethered to Trump in this way, Oyler’s and Lockwood’s depictions of the internet also feel tethered to the duration of his presidency, and neatly periodized by its end. (With Biden, a different — not better, but different — internet?)
Fake Accounts and No One Is Talking About This realistically represent their particular corners of the internet, the ones characterised by the Trumpian concerns I’ve named above — No One by invoking its languages, and Fake Accounts by narrativising its consequences in would-be intimate relationships. The key words here are ‘realistically’ and ‘represent’; these are what hamstring the books’ potential. The internet is stapled to its present instantiation in Twitter (the internet of a Reddit user would be very different, for instance, than that of a Twitter user). Representing what is a dominant paradigm of the internet does not get us anywhere new, and this fidelity suggests to critics a limited reading of the texts; the millennial or online ones re-represent this representation with weariness, and the non-online ones re-represent this representation with awe.
It turns out, of course, that the protagonist of No One Is Talking About This is not just anyone, or no one in particular. She’s American. The realism of each novel is authenticated in the consciousnesses of two American citizens; the representation of the internet in each novel is authenticated in the consciousnesses of two American citizens. The internet is one medium that might allow the protagonists of American fiction to see outside themselves, and — more importantly — to see their country as if from the outside. But instead, it turns their gazes inwards. Lockwood’s protagonist is distressed by her own myopia, but to get her out of it, all Lockwood can do is puncture the portal’s unrelenting hold with human tragedy. Oyler’s narrator finds that her tragedy, Felix’s untimely death, only tightens the internet’s grip on her. Even a physical relocation to Berlin is no match for her stuckness. Of course, the narrator’s myopia is part of her character, part of the point of the novel, but again, it limits what Fake Accounts can tell a reader about being online.
I love a book that ends in dance. Lockwood’s does, with the protagonist at a nightclub in London after she has delivered a lecture about the portal, her phone lifted from her pocket by a nimble thief. ‘The club was a crush, one body’ — not one mind, one body. ‘Someone would try to unlock it [the phone], later, and see the picture of the baby opening her mouth, about to speak, about to say anything’. Say anything — not the prescriptive language of the portal, but anything. Fake Accounts doesn’t have a dance ending but it could have, given that the narrator is a temporary resident of the clubbing capital of the world. She could be gurning and sweaty, phone camera stickered over, transcending her petty entrapments at last, but honestly that’s not her style. Better to sit her, as Fake Accounts actually does, at the sidewalk café, that symbol of European Enlightenment culture.
One more possible ending, this one a fake account. After her run-in with Felix, she impulse-buys a cheap Ryan Air flight to London, attends Lockwood’s lecture, and tags along afterwards to the club. We know her to be a terminal snoop, a seeker of answers in all the wrong places, so can you picture her as the phone thief? Wrong-footed by Felix, drawn inexorably more online in her attempts to find closure, she sees the portal’s expert translator and steals her access to it. Maybe it’s just curiosity, or compulsion, or maybe it’s the logical endpoint of her experiment with false identities; she wants to look into this identity; maybe she wants to steal it. As hokey as the psychologising here is — no more than in Oyler’s real ending, I would argue — this is where I wanted her book to go, or even to begin: with paranoia and delusion, unabashed expat crime-caper territory, The Talented Mr Ripley but for women online. That’s not the book Oyler wanted to write, of course, but it is one yet to be written, and one I want to read.