“A Talented Mr Ripley for the Digital Age” is the tag line that immediately drew me towards Social Creature but also kind of ruined the plot for me, for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, despite some middling reviews, I devoured this book and was intoxicated by the writing style. If you haven’t read a Talented Mr Ripley, I highly recommend that, but if you also like Gossip Girl and decadence and stupid women in their 20s doing stupid things but you can’t look away, you’re going to love this book.
Louise works several jobs to try and survive in Manhattan in 2015, at a bar and as a freelance writer and as an SAT tutor, which is weirdly so familiar to me (or at least to some of my friends). Lavinia, on the other hand, is several years into her “sabbatical” from Yale to write her novel, but she spends most of her days thinking about art and life and partying and playing dress up and drawing women like Louise into her orbit. And into her orbit does Louise fall, ditching shifts and commitments to follow Lavinia to parties, to meet Lavinia’s friends and wear Lavinia’s clothes. She even starts nipping a little of Lavinia’s money to pay her own expenses, but then she no longer has to pay rent because Lavinia asks her to move in. Louise, Lulu as Lavinia calls her, can’t get enough. But then things get slippery. Louise has to work very hard to keep Lavinia happy, to keep her calm, to keep her from finding out who Louise is romantically interested in and how she is paying her bills. One night, at a party straight out of a film, their fragile relationship breaks, and Louise will spend the rest of the novel, the rest of her life, trying not to fuck up so badly again.
The writing in this book might not be for everyone, because it’s frantic and frenetic and intoxicating, but it fits really well with the narrative. None of the characters are truly likeable, but they are all relatable in their own ways. Lavinia is a hippy-dippy kind of girl, the one that floats around and magnetizes people but never truly cares about anything more than the image she has created for herself. Louise is hard-working but doesn’t trust herself, doesn’t believe in herself in a lot of ways. Rex is every grad student you’ve ever dated, the soft-boi type. Mimi is the failed actress who could have been, who still wants to be. They’re all there and you will want to follow their stories desperately. A lot of the reviews I read for this book were so-so, some people loved it, some thought it was too derivative. It does what it sets out to do, puts the Talented Mr Ripley into the 21st century, into a world of Facebook likes and Uber and cocaine. If I had any major complaint about this book it would be the insistence of the narrative to have Lavinia posting on Facebook when we all know that girls like her post on Instagram.
Anyway, glad I finally read this and can’t wait to re-read the Talented Mr Ripley series next year!