This is a hard review to write, because being sent the book by the author, I have to say that at the core there was something that I didn’t quite get about this book. Former.ly is the story of a guy who is recruited to work at a mysterious social media start up for a site that people can use to record their lives, but only goes live on their death. It’s not long before the job takes over his life, and things start to get dark in this thriller about the social media age.
My problem is this: without giving anything away, the main character very early in the book goes to a job interview at a bar, then returns home at 5.30 AM, where his girlfriend is waiting up for him, really worried. He has ignored all her calls, and we know he’s been dancing very seductively with his new, very pretty, work colleague. The characters feeling is that not only is his girlfriend over reacting, but also that she’s a spoilt rich girl and that he has done nothing wrong. How dare she be jealous that he smells like another girls perfume, even though it’s mentioned that he has form for cheating on her!
(The other female characters are: the office girl who “takes care of the boys” and is both PR, love interest and cries a lot, but is passed over for promotion and makes out with her boss. And a middle aged lady in accounts, who is described as personifying failed hopes and dreams. So this book clearly isn’t going to pass the Bechdel test anytime soon.)
This main character also later withholds evidence from police, in order to make money.
If the protagonist is a total loser, who shows that he’s not really kind or moral, how are we supposed to care what happens to him? I couldn’t tell if the author was trying to create the character this way, or expressing his own outlook on life, which was a little uncomfortable.
The plot itself builds nicely, but the thrill isn’t there in the end, because there’s no real twist. What happens is what you think is happening, so no surprises, except for the main characters girlfriend having done some things that don’t really add up, and only serve to make her a bad guy to justify his lax treatment of her.
Being a book about a guy that works in computer stuff, there’s plenty of jargon, but some of it is kind of amusing: in one scene, they talk about keeping the servers in a loft, which is crazy, since servers need to be kept cool, lofts are generally not good for that. What cooling system do they have up there? And then for security they need to be moved, so they move them, a process which normally takes about a month to plan for a system of that size and scope, but which they manage to do all at once, in what seems to be an afternoon.
It’s a book that has it’s good points, and the author clearly has writing talent, and some really interesting ideas that he poses well, I love the idea of this spooky social media app that only goes live when you’re dead. There’s so much possibility for secrets coming out, and murder and all kinds of dark things. But on the whole, that core issue of whether we’re meant to be hoping that our main character gets his comeuppance or whether we’re supposed to be rooting for him was too big of an issue.
Read It If: you’re interested in the modern world and where social media and the online life is taking us, but it’s not for everyone.