“There were so many people in bad moods at any given time, all we had to do was find each other,” says the unnamed narrator of Fake Accounts. She is speaking, of course, about Twitter, a platform synonymous with anger, call-outs and simplistic political arguments. Lauren Oyler’s novel spouts tired cliches of the evils of social media, but also provides insightful analysis into the ways it encourages impossible forms of disclosure about who we are and where those desires to disclose might lead us astray.
The narrator is a woman in her late 20s who works for a website and is dating a man who remains slightly aloof and distant from her. To satiate and further provoke her feelings of insecurity, the woman decides to sneak a look at his phone, discovering that he runs an account on Instagram that popularises a wide range of conspiracy theories.
The young woman feels betrayed by this revelation, on the one hand because of the contents of his posts, and on the other because she does not think he is being sincere. All of which is compounded by the fact that the revelation shatters the illusion that he is not as reliant on his phone as she is on hers: “Felix must have been looking at Instagram all the time.”
decides to break up with him but is interrupted before she can do so when he dies. Unsure of what to do, she quits her job and travels to the city where they met, Berlin. There the titular "fake accounts" take on another dimension as the
narrator starts frequently lying about her identity for seemingly very little reason, apart from echoing her experience with Felix.
Shelies to her new flatmate, she lies to the mother of the twin babies she cares for, and she tells a range of detailed lies to men she meets on OkCupid, arranging her behaviour along the lines of poorly researched star-sign characteristics. She reels in potential dates through a fabricated profile that names as her favourite film Ingmar Bergman’s psychological drama Persona.
Oyler’s narrator is compulsively readable as well as unceasingly cynical, but her pronouncements on the badness of things are recognisable in their lack of direction – “many things feel bad right now, and it’s hard to say exactly why.” The narrator often waivers, chastising herself for having emotions while simultaneously attempting to maintain an ironic distance from things such as going on protests and doing yoga.
This isn’t a snotty dismissal, but a problem of settling in one spot comfortably, knowing that places like Twitter ask us to explain ourselves all the time. Oyler neatly identifies the limitations of Twitter political discourse, in which to disclose, declaim and decry are all part of the shoring up of a place where you speak as yourself without always knowing what that means.
Sensitive to form
Beyond this, Oyler is sensitive to the form her novel will take. Fake Accounts is distinctively autobiographical – I recognised the character’s descriptions of her Twitter picture as resembling Oyler’s, for example – while also eschewing some of the formal trends that might go along with that.
At one point the narrator listens to a podcast in which a writer talks about their new book written in theubiquitous fragmented style: “Lots of women were writing fragmented books like this now, the interviewer pointed out.” The narrator reflects on this and finds “this trendy style was melodramatic, insinuating utmost meaning where there was only hollow prose”.
This critique emerges from Oyler’s other work as a book critic at outlets such as the London Review of Books, the Baffler and Harper’s. Therefore, she has read and reviewed many of the best-known examples of this style. But not content to simply outline its problems, Oyler has a go at it herself, including several pages laid out in paragraphs of varying length – one of which includes the arch observation, “What’s amazing about this structure is that you can dump any material you have in here and leave it up to the reader to connect it to the rest of the work.”
I wondered how much Oyler was aware of Patricia Lockwood’s newly published novel No One Is Talking About This, which is presented in fragments to echo the experience of Twitter, when she wrote: “If I wanted a book that resembled Twitter, I wouldn’t write a book; I would just spend even more time on Twitter.”
Though the novel loses a little of its steam towards the end, Oyler’s voice is always clear and assured, and her observations sharp. Fake Accounts establishes her not only as an important literary voice but an attentive reader of contemporary literature, unafraid to challenge prevailing tastes.