All the Lonely People by David Owen
|All the Lonely People by David Owen|
|Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam|
|Summary: A topical and moving story about loneliness and online culture, there's a whole lot to appreciate in All The Lonely People.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: January 2019|
|External links: Author's website|
Kat and Wesley are both loners, looking for places to fit in. Kat finds this with online communities, where she feels like she can be her true self - a feminist, an activist, someone who isn't scared to speak out. Wesley's desire to feel a sense of belonging sees him fall in with an altogether nastier crowd. Bullies, trolls, extremists. When he pulls the final trigger on a violent, targeted online bullying campaign, Kat is forced to delete her entire online presence. Bereft of everything that represented her identity, Kat's physical self starts to fade as well. As the entire world slowly forgets that Kat ever existed, only Wesley seems to remember the girl whom he erased. Wesley is faced with a choice: get sucked further into a sinister alt-right movement or help Kat to stop them.
While I've heard good things about David Owen, this was my first time picking up one of his books, drawn in by a premise that promised a supernatural edge to a contemporary focusing on highly topical issues. It took a bit of warming up to. Neither of the main characters hooked me immediately and the concept of the fade felt a little clunky at first. But I found myself slowly falling for the characters, the plot, the prose…the everything, really. And the first thing I did after turning over the final page was to add Panther and The Fallen Children to my to-read list.
Wesley starts from a deeply unsympathetic position. As we get to know more about his background, his complicated family issues and the motivations that drive him, we start to see the shades of grey that, while never justifying his behaviour, start to colour the why of it all. The vulnerability created by loneliness and poverty. The pressures of toxic masculinity. The insidious nature of alt-right indoctrination online. All are important, relevant issues that are given their fair dues. His journey to try to redeem himself is far from straightforward, but this only adds to how real and meaningful it feels.
Kat is sympathetic from the first page, but she also struggles to make as much of an impression. While Wesley's story is defined by the lessons he needs to learn, these are lessons that Kat, with her emotional intelligence and awareness of social issues, already knows. For a while, I was worried that she'd end up being not much more than a mouthpiece for the author to tell readers what they are meant to learn from the book. Fortunately, this is where the central concept of the fade steps up. As more facets of it are revealed, Kat's story starts to become more interesting. We get the gorgeous connection that she builds with Safa, another girl who is fading; the emotive one-sided conversations she has with Wesley, her dad and all the other people who can no longer see her; the powerful insights she gains into the lives and feelings of those she follows. And the more that Kat's physical self fades, the more that her personality starts to shine, as she finds a voice and self-belief that, before, she'd only ever had online.
Especially in the latter half, the quality of the writing really comes to the fore. Gorgeous imagery incisively delineates the crushing despair of loneliness and self-doubt. Rapid cuts between perspectives sharpen the rising stakes and enhance the growing tension. Seemingly disparate elements of the plot come together in satisfying fashion. And we get an excellent conclusion that provides closure, while staying true to the complexity of the characters and the themes underlying the story.
Thanks to the lovely folks at Atom for sending a copy to The Bookbag!
Flip is an old favourite of mine that has a similar vibe, with a supernatural concept forming the basis for a deeply introspective exploration of identity. Non Pratt's Truth or Dare and Alice Oseman's Radio Silence are also excellent choices for those looking for nuanced explorations of the double-edged nature of social media and the Internet.
You can read more book reviews or buy All the Lonely People by David Owen at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy All the Lonely People by David Owen at Amazon.com.
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