Wednesday 23 October 2019

Filter This: Cleverly filtered chaos in Sophie White's hilarious novel

Fiction: Filter This

Sophie White

Hachette, €12.99

Sophie White. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Sophie White. Photo: Caroline Quinn
FIlter This by Sophie White

Anne Cunningham

There's an author's note at the beginning of this novel where Sophie White stresses that she's not making "a rallying cry to unplug or disconnect - I'm nearly at five thousand followers lads". And yet if ever there was a rallying cry against the vacuous never-never-land of Instagram, and in particular of Insta Influencers, then surely this has to be it.

Meet Alessandra Jones, Ali for short, an obsessed and devoted Instagrammer, trying to make a name for herself as an…ahem…influencer.

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Her single-mindedness and frenzied ambition brings another fictional protagonist to mind. Remember Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair? This is Becky. With internet.

Ali shares a house with her best friend, Liv (practically the only character with a modicum of sanity and perspective, and definitely the only one who speaks in complete sentences, without endless abbreviations). Liv is doing a thesis on the evils of Instagram Influencers. And Ali makes for an interesting case history.

Now meet Shelly Devine, Influencer Extraordinaire, with a gazillion followers, a drop-dead-gorgeous husband and 1.5 kids.

Husband Dan doesn't actually know about the .5 kid just yet - and things are about to get a bit rocky in the Devine household. And when Ali Jones discovers that she herself has inadvertently hinted at being pregnant - even though she's not - she decides to run with it anyway.

What's a little deception between Insta friends? Thousands and thousands of them?

Meanwhile, Ali has quit her job as a production assistant on the Irish soap opera Durty Oul' Town and needs to generate some additional income. Fast.

Promoting her phantom pregnancy seems to be the only way to go (the whole 'sponcon' phenomenon was an eye opener for this quasi-Luddite reader). In addition to that, she's got a father in a nursing home dying of late-stage Alzheimer's, and a mother for whom she has been a lifelong disappointment.

Her flatmate is also becoming increasingly distant, as she sees Ali's life of deception creeping to new and more despicable lows on a daily basis.

It's all like a fast-track to the seventh circle of hell, but there are many laughs on the way and White doesn't miss a single one. She manages to keep everyone on board here. The armies of Insta fans will swallow this book whole. But those of us with a more jaundiced viewpoint on the world of Influencers will be equally entertained at the insane, craven outrageousness of it all.

There are shades of Marian Keyes in this highly entertaining satire, but that's no bad thing. It's great fun.

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