Tapping into the contemporary lifestyles of the Facebook generation, Moggach constructs a novel of a lonely girl’s seduction by a savvy man, her complete immersion in the life of an online acquaintance who wishes to commit suicide without erasing her online presence, thereby alleviating the pain for family and friends. Regardless of the obvious flaws in such a plan, Leila, an autodidact whose mother recently died of MS, has been convinced of her right to aid a stranger in a quest to end her life, in spite of the law against abetting a suicide. Leila has convinced herself that this is a noble cause.
Everything depends, of course, on the naïve, overweight, socially immature Leila, a girl carefully selected by the moderator of RedPill.com (a reference to a popular movie, wink, wink), Adrian Dervish, who culls her from the other pseudo-intellectuals who philosophize on the site, inviting Leila to join a special subscription group. Leila pays the monthly fee then is flattered when Adrian asks to meet privately and discuss a special project he has in mind. Her imagination already in overdrive, Leila is a likely subject for a particularly obtuse project, that of aiding a stranger to end her life by establishing an ongoing online presence for the (presumably) deceased.
Leila throws herself into her new job with alacrity, promised the commensurate amount of pay as her present job, which allows her to work from home, once the subject, Tess, has “disappeared.” A born organizer and devoted isolator, Leila remains in her flat for days on end, rarely leaving the premises as she learns all about Tess. Communicating through phone conversations and Skype, but without Tess able to see her interviewer, Leila asks a list of questions she has conscientiously prepared that will allow her to continue the subterfuge after Tess is no longer available. As thorough as she is obsessive, Leila never questions the validity of her mission or whether her actions are appropriate, driven by Adrian’s trust and her belief in Tess’s right to choose her own destiny after a lifetime of debilitating depression.
Everything is viewed through Leila’s warped perception, her human flaws more than evidenced by the existence she has chosen after her mother’s death, one that allows her to continue the isolation enforced by a terminal illness. Her mother was Leila’s only friend, the outside world foreign to a girl who never attends school but reads everything available, who pours herself into a faceless computer in search of relevance and meaning that absolves her of the necessity of personal contact. It is the ultimate isolation of a world where social media dominates communication, where online friends substitute for flesh and blood and where essentially superficial relationships take on the weight of real ones.
Of course there is a fly in the ointment. Leila’s carefully constructed world falls apart in a moment of revelation, caught in a web of deceit that brings her to the attention of the authorities and the mother of the girl she so blithely becomes on the Internet. Belatedly following Tess’s trail after her disappearance, Leila learns the meaning of self-deception, but even that humiliation barely dents the surface of this hard-shelled rationalist. An autodidact she might be, but one devoid of appropriate emotional responses to events that might give others pause. Having indulged in a quasi-romance with Tess’s former suitor, an abortive attempt to explain her actions to a grieving mother and interact normally with a new roommate (apparently a solution to financial issues), Leila’s outlook on life remains as ridiculous as this “thriller,” with too many loose ends and assumptions to ever make this novel believable.