On Instagram, it looks like everyone is living their best life, from the seductive thirst traps to the heart-warming baby snaps. But is anyone really as #lucky as their feed suggests? This is the question Dawn O'Porter tackles in her new novel - the latest title to take readers behind the Instagram filter, in what is turning out to be one of 2019's biggest literary trends.
So Lucky tells the stories of three very different women. There's Lauren, an influencer whom we encounter primarily through her Instagram posts. O'Porter details her photos and the comments from followers, with a fairly even split between the gushing fans ("you are such an inspiration to me") and the trolls (oh my f***ing god, when will you actually shut the f*** up you vain vacuous asshole"). We see Lauren promoting green smoothies, taking a bubble bath and opening up about her #anxiety, as well as teasing her upcoming wedding to millionaire businessman Gavin.
We catch glimpses of the unfiltered Lauren through her interactions with the two narrators, Ruby and Beth. Ruby is a single mam with a deep shame over her body and great ambivalence about motherhood. As in her previous novel The Cows, O'Porter is frank about the pressures of parenting, and here, Ruby struggles to bond with her young daughter. She also struggles with her job as a photo editor, heavily retouching images for leading fashion magazines. "My job and my moral compass battle with each other every day. I know how much a negative body image can ruin a woman's life, and here I am perpetuating the problem and giving that complex to millions of other women every single day," she reflects. Her next gig? The photos for Lauren's big day.
Beth, meanwhile, is Lauren's wedding planner, and is frequently told how "lucky" she is to be a powerhouse "girl boss" with an ostensibly kind, caring husband who has taken extended paternity leave to care for their four-month-old son so that Beth can return to work. Her 26-year-old assistant, Risky (who is described as giving "a masterclass in how to be a millennial"), frequently sighs with envy over Beth's life - when she's not preaching about her feminism podcast or shamelessly masturbating in the office toilets.
But to Beth, Risky is the lucky one, hopping into bed with a different man every week, while Beth hasn't had sex in more than a year. To quell her libido, she takes a foray into the world of dogging. It's daring, even shocking, yet O'Porter's attempt to explain Beth's sexuality by tossing in a story about a past relationship at the last minute feels clumsy and unnecessary, and she never quite convinces us why Beth would marry such a hopelessly awful man in the first place.
Ruby's complex issues with body image, however, present a distressing and fascinating read, as she rails against the breathless pursuit of female "empowerment". "Everyone's talking about 'women supporting women' and 'the power of female friendship'," she observes. "It's enough to make me stop reading the papers."
Ultimately, though, So Lucky is about the power of women supporting women. "Together we can get through anything," Beth notes, following a too-convenient ending that brings them all together for a last blast of "girl power", albeit with an unconventional twist.
The closing section, which asks "Who are you?" and provides a few blank lines for readers to fill out their response, is a bit trite, but So Lucky otherwise feels raw and very relevant in today's image-obsessed culture. It's a bold, confident novel, with plenty of raunchy humour. If you've ever felt like you're flailing while everyone else is flourishing, this is the book for you.