I Hate the Internet review: A novel so bad it’s . . . really a lot of fun
Rob Doyle says Jarett Kobek’s satirically ‘bad’ book is a memorable rant against just about everything
‘How great to find a writer railing so bitterly against the internet! What happened to us all? Kobek asks.’ Photograph: Jie Zhao/Corbis via Getty Images
I Hate the Internet
We Heard You Like Books
I Hate the Internet is a bad novel. It does not, as great fiction is reported to do, teach us how to think; it tells us what to think, and in the most hectoring, right-on way. (From the opening pages: “She was a woman in a culture that hated women”.)
If we are under any doubt that I Hate the Internet is a bad novel, we need not be: the novel itself tells us so. “This is a bad novel,” it says. “Most books are quite bad,” it adds. “Almost all movies are better than books.”
This bad novel flagrantly violates the rules that govern “good writing”. It is proud to be a bad novel because the enemy here is the good novel. The good novel and literary fiction itself, the narrator tells us in his unfiltered rage, were the creations of the CIA. (One of the many irritating things about this bad novel is that its conception of the world is so US-centric.)
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As part of its anti-Soviet propaganda effort, the CIA funded both The Paris Review and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the latter the prototype of a swarm of creative writing courses. These courses serve as production lines for the manufacture of lyrical epiphanies, tea-time affairs and gentle melancholy. We turn to their products in the same way that we might listen to a Coldplay album: for the illusion of humanity in a world from which it has vanished utterly.
However, just as it is certain that Chris Martin’s skin will one day peel back to reveal the murderous skull of a Terminator, the good novel can’t do a damn thing – so this bad novel tells us – to help us navigate our shitty new world. Said world is run by multinational tech corporations that profit from our misery, suffocates in online sanctimony, and is given over to the law of the mob, with its brutal/sentimental binary of a drunken bruiser.
A little about this bad novel’s plot, which is not really up to much. An annoying woman named Adeline falls afoul of the Twitter hordes who, of course, viciously abuse anyone whose worldview does not precisely accord with their own, or who they judge to have been “offensive”, whether or not anyone really is offended.
As Adeline hangs out in San Francisco with her bourgeois-bohemian friends and weighs up her possible courses of action, the bad novel starts to resemble one of the good novels it so violently lampoons. That is, one in which white, middle-class Americans bore us with their boring predicaments.
Jarett Kobek, this bad novel’s author, can’t resist taking a swipe at the literary herd’s favourite punching bag, Jonathan Franzen. For all his well-informed fury, there are few trends that Kobek is not willing to surf.
But let’s not worry about that: how great to find a writer railing so bitterly against the internet! What happened to us all? Kobek asks. How the hell did we allow ourselves to be herded so docilely by these Silicon Valley twats? The author comes from a tech background; he knows well what he lambasts, and his assault on how we live now is withering indeed.
That we make such easy targets is no reason to deny Kobek our gratitude for shooting us down. Survey the scene: our primary pastime is going on social media to parade our “outrage”, not out of conviction but out of narcissism, and for the pleasure of being applauded by the herd.
“TRUMP IS BAD”, we tweet, on our devices produced by slaves in China. “RACISM IS WRONG”, we post, and dollar signs flash in the White Man’s eyes. “DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY”, we tweet, and all it does is generate advertising revenue for our new male masters, and the masturbatory illusion that this will change anything.
Google is our God
Meanwhile, the writers are on Twitter as well, abandoning all dignity in the scrabble to reach a broader audience, though no one gives a damn. Our lives having become so impoverished, we cultivate our capacity to be offended as the last meagre source of pleasure. We fellated Steve Jobs to death and now we grovel at the altar of Zuckerberg. Google is our God and Master. The gears of capitalism in its most lethal phase are kept running and Earth hurtles towards an extinction which, frankly, can’t come too soon.
In summary, I Hate the Internet is not really much of a novel at all: like this bad review, it is a screed, a polemical essay, a rant against the internet, against morons, against racism, against so many shades of bullshit. It is an anti-novel about why San Francisco, most beautiful of American cities, has become so awful. (You guessed it: it’s the Ayn Rand-worshipping tech wankers with their new money and messianic self-importance.)
It is also tremendous fun, inventive, smart and, again, highly irritating. I read it more avidly and will remember it longer than many of the good novels I’ve read recently, most of which I’ve already forgotten.
Rob Doyle’s second book, This Is the Ritual, is published by Bloomsbury and the Lilliput Press.