The chasm between the real-life self and the online self has been a glorious seam for writers to mine.
rom Dawn O'Porter and Taffy Brodesser-Akner to Emma Jane Unsworth and Kiley Reid, there has been much to say about the vapid, narcissistic and superficial quality of social media, and the people (usually women) in thrall to it.
Journalist/podcaster/blogger Sophie White joined the fray last year with her debut novel, Filter This. Her media career had certainly qualified her to take a deep dive into the phenomenon of social media obsession. Mixing an insider's knowledge of influencer culture with a lightness of touch, White delivered a charming, effervescent debut. Rough around the edges, certainly, but a tasty balance of froth and insight.
In it, Ali Jones is an influencer on a fall from grace after fabricating a pregnancy - or rather, not correcting followers when they speculate that she is expecting - and being caught in her lie. The accidental social media post that becomes a bigger ruse is fast turning into a literary trope of its own, but White creates a character to root for. All the while, Ali is dealing with her father's deterioration from Alzheimer's disease.
In Unfiltered, the follow-up, we are reunited with Ali on the morning of her father Miles's funeral. Her mother Mini, with whom she has a strained relationship, is veering on the verge of a breakdown. There is now a pregnancy, or a 'Sam-Ali mash-up' as she calls it in her belly, for real this time. This time, the announcement happens in a way she might not have planned.
In the fallout of Ali's previous revelations, Sam, her ex, isn't on speaking terms with her. Her online following is still healthy, as her 'fans' are on tenterhooks to stay close to the drama. And despite her moment of ignominy, the sirensong of Insta-fame is hard to escape. She is still, after everything, daring to dream.
'Mumfluencer' Shelly, already exhausted by the demands of life as an Instagram star, is also finding it tough to escape her online life. Now a mum of two, she is also dealing with a weird cyberstalker (while hubby sleeps out in the garden).
Determined to turn things around, Ali enlists the services of a manager to help turn around her reputation, and finds herself in Catfishers Anonymous with a motley crew of colourful types (including a rather entertaining old lady), and an old acquaintance. Add in a Goop-style festival, new apps like Scissr and a handful of social media addicts, and Unfiltered is pretty much as zeitgeisty as they come. White is clearly conversant in all things influencer. A natural conversationalist, she delivers an effortlessly authentic look at the topsy-turvy world through the Instagram looking glass. She writes with acuity about Ali's parental grief (something written from real-life experience), as well as her pregnancy and Ali's complex relationship with Mini. The many different plots and subplots unfold at speed, and White's fervour for her subject creates a fun and occasionally frenetic read.
It can be difficult for an author to write about a vapid and shallow culture ("You'd better hope that bump you've got is a girl - a little boy will kill your brand") without turning in a work that reads as having just those qualities, but White has mercifully dodged that particular bullet.
And, for their many shortcomings, White's main characters are likeable enough to stay with on the journey.
Things occasionally skitter towards boilerplate territory. While White's voice is on its way to becoming more effortlessly fluid since her debut, there are still the odd cliché and occasional clunky caricature to be found.
Regardless, there is ebullience and enthusiasm in spades throughout Unfiltered. White is a welcome and energising addition to the Irish commercial fiction canon. There are tones of darkness and light, and pockets of gravitas mixed with the gloss and silliness.
White's sharp-eyed take on modern life couldn't be more on target, and fans of the equally readable Aisling series by Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght will doubtless lap up White's mad, mad world.