Book Review | Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

The world of Fake Accounts is our world four years ago – a world on the brink of Trump’s election that is ‘ending, or would begin to end soon.’ It’s a world that feels both frantic and desperate but – or perhaps this is why – a world completely turned in on itself, to lives lived online in an attempt to forget that the world is soon ending ‘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.’

Our protagonist is a blogger in New York, whose job is to essentially ‘reword pieces other people had written and [add] mean jokes’ in a ‘rote, pseudo-intellectual’ dismissive tone. She finds out that her boyfriend, who ostensibly eschews social media, has been secretly running a popular conspiracy theorist Instagram account. On unlocking her unsuspecting boyfriend’s phone, she comments –

‘At first there was too much information to take anything in; I felt frantic, like I had just entered a Walmart with the whimsical idea that I might get some socks, maybe a magazine, maybe a new kind of frozen burrito, and instead was confronted by the overwhelming vagueness of my desires.’

I won’t include the precise events that follow (spoilers) but soon afterwards she finds herself adrift in Berlin, lacking the drive to make a life there but also lacking the impetus to return home.

‘I had to finally admit that Twitter was not a distraction from reality but representative of it.’

My feelings about Fake Accounts ricocheted all over the place. Initially I was hooked; the wry and irreverent voice, the solipsism and cynicism, the humour. Then the stretch from about half way to just before the end became tedious, as the narrative rambled with no discernible direction – and I struggled to care what happened.

The problem with the directionless of the narrative was that the narrative is essentially just a reflection of our protagonist’s inner world – one long inner monologue – and it becomes incredibly difficult to decipher anything real about her (I know I know, this is the point. But still). She so rarely tells the truth to anyone she encounters – creating a fantastical string of lies from burlesque dancer to tax accountant – making every interaction, particularly with the men she dates, a constructed performance of selfhood. And even when she’s breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader, there’s such a constructed wall and a vehement objection to vulnerability or sincerity of any kind.

I loved the protagonist’s voice, in a kind of love-to-hate way. Think Lena Dunham’s character Hannah in Girls. If you couldn’t stand her, this isn’t the book for you (unnamed protagonist is just as self-absorbed and pretentious, but lacks Hannah’s endearing earnestness).

‘I replied to accept, thinking that a strange or upsetting experience would be at least different, and more importantly that it would give me something to do, keeping me from descending entirely into self-pity and ruminations on time death love solitude identity etc.’

I’m not sure, honestly, what to make of it. I know that it’s saying something bigger about the lives we construct for ourselves online, the nature of selfhood and performance and power. And it is smart, and incisive, and ironic. But it didn’t feel altogether articulated, and it got bogged down in the minutiae of things we really don’t care about in a rambling narrative. I’ve no doubt it’ll spark interesting debate, love it or loathe it.

With thanks to the publisher via Edelweiss for the advanced copy. Fake Accounts was published on 2nd February 2021.

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