Catching the catfish... in Claudia Carroll's 12th novel
Modern-day comic romance tackles cyber etiquette and the darker side of online dating
If you are already familiar with Claudia Carroll's writing, you won't be surprised that her new book, Meet Me in Manhattan centres on the fate of a hapless 30-something woman in search of the 'right guy'. Holly works in radio/TV research, which provides plenty of scope for chatty exposition of the Irish recession.
A pitch to her employer about a piece on online dating gives the office an opportunity to throw in their dos and don'ts on cyber etiquette. This chapter could stand alone as a guide to online dating. For instance, playing hard-to-get is pointless.
The story pivots on the proliferation of 'catfish' on the internet. These are people who conjure up an alternative persona, professions, family, going far beyond white-lying and into a psychologically damaging full-time fantasy, preying on the gullible or vulnerable.
Holly's online date is Capt Andy McCoy, a widowed pilot based in Atlanta. He writes effusive and endearing texts, arranges dates when he is overnight in Dublin and fails to turn up. The plane is always diverted. Certain professions have ample scope for lying, last-minute flights missed or emergencies to be dealt with. Mobile technology has provided a licence to lie, and a shield to protect. It is an ideal medium for the narcissist's need to dominate, control and compartmentalise. It is the greatest gift to the pathological liar and has created a new category of Munchausen syndrome, attention-seeking by way of self-aggrandisement.
Step in the best friend's boyfriend, Polish IT whiz, who, through geo-tagging, IP address tracking and general all-out concern for poor Holly, discovers that the handsome pilot with a six-year-old son, is not what he seems. Holly is not just distraught at the deceit, the preying on her honesty, but the manipulation, the deliberate luring without any intention of meeting.
It is coming up to Christmas, a time of year that she hates, a sub-text which is buried until the end. She decides to kill two birds, get out of Dublin and fly to New York to confront 'Capt Andy McCoy', on the premise of doing a TV feature on the pitfalls of online dating and catfish. A tad extreme in itself, but if she had just pressed 'delete', she would never have found the adventure that awaits her.
The radio station is hit by cutbacks, sometimes Holly has 'unpaid days'. The author highlights the plight of many professionals on the JobBridge scheme in the media, though this allows Holly to take time off at her own expense to pursue a story in Manhattan.
This is Carroll's 12th book and she nicely weaves topical themes of 'modern family' throughout. Holly was adopted by a single woman in her 40s, it made her feel odd as a child, but she describes the close bond in a way that may not arise in a 'conventional family'. Other themes of journalistic integrity, protection of sources, viral rumours, terminal illness, ethics rewarded, all come into what is very much a romantic comic fiction and enjoyable read.
Meet Me in Manhattan
Claudia Carroll, Avon, pbk, 312p, £12.99
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350