by Megan Angelo
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 384 Pages
Release date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House
An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the profound moment that changes the meaning of privacy forever.
Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck writing about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Orla has no idea how to change her life until her new roommate, Floss―a striving, wannabe A-lister―comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they so desperately crave. But it’s only when Orla and Floss abandon all pretense of ethics that social media responds with the most terrifying feedback of all: overwhelming success.
Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.
Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.
My thanks to Graydon House and NetGalley for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
Actual rating: 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4 here.
I was super skeptical going into this book; I sincerely dislike art that never seems to have any thing more substantive to say than “social media bad,” and the blurb was giving off some of those vibes. However, Followers proved to be a seriously addictive read, and while social media plays a huge role in the plot, at its heart the novel is about how relationships can be poisoned by a thirst for money and power.
The story revolves around dual timelines: in 2015, Floss and Orla are attempting to manipulate Orla’s connections to artificially lift up Floss as an “influencer.” The dynamic between these two characters was probably the most interesting part of the book for me; Floss is self-absorbed and vapid and Orla pretends to be above it all, but the two have an uncomfortable friendship forged by mutual necessity.
35 years later, the book follows Marlow, who lives in a town under constant surveillance, (almost) every moment of her life live streamed to her obsessed followers, à la The Truman Show. Marlow lives in relative wealth and comfort, but her life is controlled to a horrifying degree by corporate sponsorships. She is told when and who to marry, what to eat and wear, and even if/when she will have a baby. She is kept from bristling under the excessive control by means of medication. This part of the plot is a bit over the top and difficult to swallow, but I’m not in this for the realism, I’m in it for the fun thought experiment. Marlow has grown up under these circumstances, and while I don’t entirely buy into the way the novel justified how we got to this point, I do buy into Marlow’s behavior as a character who has never known anything else.
Both timelines of the novel are eventually tied together in a relatively satisfying way, but I do think things went downhill from there, as the ending of the novel was its main weakness for me. I’d like to keep the review spoiler-free, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that the interactions between the major characters which happen late in the book didn’t ring true for me.
This is Megan Angelo’s debut novel, but per her bio on GoodReads, she has previously written for The New York Times and Glamour. Followers was well paced and full of interesting character dynamics; this was definitely solid for a debut novel, and I’ll be interested to see what she writes next.