- The Closer I Get.
- Paul Burston.
- 276 pages.
- Thriller / Psychological Thriller / Mystery / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone.
Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has.
When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing.
But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Side note: quite a large portion of this review is me rambling about social media, online interaction and relationships. I did think about not including it in the review or, at least, significantly condensing down what I had written. In the end, I choose not to. Firstly, the story told in The Closer I Get is about social media and online relationships so my musings are relevant and secondly, the thoughts that I had swirling around in my mind whilst reading and everything I subsequently wrote came about after I’d finished reading the book.
It was the book that made me ponder, that made me muse, that made me think and for that alone, my ramblings are worth being included in my review.
The Closer I Get is compulsive, dark and highly relevant to today’s society, the online world where likes, comments, shares, retweets, views and follower counts hold sway. The society where many measure their own self-worth not by who they are as a person but by the numbers of their online presence.
At times, we all wear masks whether we want to admit it or not, for some, it might be pretending that you are fine and that you are OK when really you are broken and crying inside. Whilst others have a more sinister motive for hiding their true colours and using a mask….to gain your trust online.
That’s what The Closer I Get is a harrowing look into, a snapshot of what occurs when the mask a person wears slips and the real person, the one that was hidden beneath is revealed.
Whilst reading and after finishing The Closer I Get you will question your own use of social media and what you share as you really don’t know who is lurking in the far corners of the Internet. Regardless of the face that they show you, the virtual hand of friendship that they offer you, you don’t know what their true intentions are or who they really are.
In real life, you might be a nobody, have a dead-end job and hardly any friends. You might be a person easily forgotten, unremembered, someone that no-one will miss but online, you could have thousands of followers, people that you have not met yet hang on your every word, you might be recognisable, you might be a somebody and possibly while you might not be missed in reality, a week off ill from work, etc with no-one caring, if you go silent on social media then your followers might notice, they might care and they might fill up your inbox with concern over your well-being.
You might also feel that you are apart from everything, apart from the world, whereas, online, you feel a part of everything, a part of the virtual world and you find a place where you belong.
There’s a screen, a barrier to being online, you might have trouble forming and maintaining relationships in real-life, be introverted and a loner but online you might be able to let yourself go and be popular.
You look for something that you are lacking in reality but there is a danger. Going online and sharing can be dangerous. Each tweet, comment, anything with an opinion and you are putting yourself out there for the world to see, you are holding your arms wide, telling the world, this is me, this is my view, take your best shot and sometimes someone will shoot back.
You reach out, go online, find someone to talk to, just words on a screen, possibly making a connection, possibly not and just killing time, making the loneliness and the boredom abate. Comments, tweets, conversations are all exchanged and then, maybe a friendship is formed.
You put pictures and/or words out into the realm of social media and if no-one replies it can be talking to the void, silence, no responses but sometimes, someone talks back, someone reaches back out to you, they have seen your posts, your tweets and/or your pictures and they see something in them that they like, that resonates with them.
In replying you are opening yourself up as how do you know that the person is who they say they are? There picture could be fake, their name could be fake, their whole profile could be fake and you don’t know. Likewise, they could reach out to you and it is you who are fake, they don’t know that. Each person is putting themselves out there, at the mercy of the other in the hope of finding a connection.
Social media is a cauldron, a boiling pot, overflowing with both real and fake people and you never really know who is which.
You create a personality online, it could be you, exactly the same as you are in real life, genuine and honest, it could be you just ramped up without the inhibitions of face to face contact, you could be the person online that you wish you were in real-life, casting off the shackles and breaking the chains of who you are to become who you wish you were. Or, you could be someone completely different, someone, who is disingenuous and who harbours bad intentions.
There are many reasons for online behaviour and why some people do what they do. Social media and all it contains is an easy rabbit hole to fall down and you can get consumed by it. It can take over your life, you trade reality for online, for the virtual as it is where you feel more comfortable but you can lose yourself and then you have to ask, where do you begin and where does your online persona begin and do they blur together?
Social media is like a black hole, it can pull you in and consume you, utterly, without warning you will find yourself living online and fading from reality, pulled under and drowning in the churning maelstrom that is social media.
Many people are addicted to social media and have to constantly check their notifications, check their feed, to feed that need, scratch that itch and to see what people have been posting and saying about them.
Being online is a way to escape, to forget the drab existence that you have, a way to let go. Maybe you can’t go out, you have an illness, a sick family member, children that need looking after, responsibilities, any genuine myriad reasons to be behind a screen and go online. Going online gives you a chance to go out while staying in, to meet people who may be, can understand your predicament and may be, can also understand you.
What happens if being online bleeds over into reality and puts your everyday life in danger? You put yourself out there, at the mercy of others, maybe through boredom, maybe just for something to do, to whittle away the hours or, maybe you put yourself out there hoping for something more, for someone who gets you.
With The Closer I Get, Burston has created a book that is very much in ‘the now’. It is a fitting read for the current world and one that should serve as a cautionary tale. It is a warning to all of those people who share everything about themselves and their lives on social media. Those people with no thought for their own safety who don’t consider who might be following them, reading their posts or just silently skulking in the darkened confines of the web but it will date with time as many books do. However, in the future, The Closer I Get will offer the reader a glimpse into days gone by, a glimpse into the past, a glimpse into a world where follower counts ruled, a glimpse into online interaction and relationships and a glimpse into the perils and the pitfalls of social media.
How do you know that you can trust those you meet online and how do you know what is safe to share? Those you deem as being ‘ online friends‘ could just as easily not be and be using you, they could ingratiate themselves into your life, worm their way in and then try and destroy you.
What could be innocent to you, meaningless interaction, might be something more to the other person, they could find it meaningful, like they are making a connection, it could be meaningful to them, they might read more into your words than you meant and feelings might get misconstrued as something more.
You can block and unfollow people at the touch of a button on social media, easier than breathing, one click, gone but are they really gone? It’s easy to block someone, it’s just as easy for the blocked person to then set-up another account in a different name and then they have another profile under a different name with which to start following you.
When you terminate your online interaction with someone what happens if they can’t take rejection?
Abuse, harassment and trolling are all a side effect of social media, an inevitable one, sadly, that will, in some way, affect us all at some point. One moment people are on your side, supporting you, they have your back, they defend you but the tide can turn, quicker than a heartbeat, then, the opposite, they have turned, they are against you, calling you out and bullying you.
With the advent of social media, it has enabled fans to get closer than ever to the celebrities that they admire, that they are fans of. No longer do fans have to rely solely on emails to contact celebrities expressing that they are a fan of their work, asking for signed photographs, etc. Or, even before that, harking back to olden day times, times of pen and paper, quill and parchment and the old-fashioned hand-written correspondence known as a ‘fan-letter’ from the fan to a celebrity. With social media, a celebrity is no longer an elusive and unobtainable figure, both they are their life are now accessible to all.
The Closer I Get looks at the relationship between a celebrity and a fan and what happens when things go too far, when they crumble, when they decay, when the fan oversteps the boundaries of reasonable behaviour and when the fan in question turns out to be unstable. In The Closer I Get the celebrity is an author but the story holds true for any celebrity in the public eye, a TV star, a movie star, a sports star, a musician, a reality star. The fan, the self-proclaimed ‘number one fan’ that turns out to be a ‘crazed fan’. Many fans like to express their gratitude, their thanks to the celebrities that they admire and for their work, the song lyrics from a band/singer that you found meaning in, that helped you, that got your through some dark times, the TV series that you love, the movie that you love, the role you love that the actor/actress portrays, the sports star that has had an amazing game/performance, the newest book from an author whose work you admire and who you want to tell them that you really enjoyed reading it. You might get personal and congratulate them on life events, a new role, a new publishing deal, winning a title, an engagement, a marriage, a birth, or, on the flip side to those positive things commiserations over a break-up, a release, a cancellation or a death. Even if they don’t realise it the celebrity and their work was there in the past for the fan and the fan, though it is only through a tweet, a comment on a FB/Instagram post wants, in-return to be there for the celebrity and show them that they are thinking of them. Thanks to social media the list of possible interaction between fans and celebrities are now endless. But that’s normally where it ends, tweets, comments, likes and general minor interaction.
To a certain degree most celebrities appreciate their fans, don’t take them for granted as they know that without fans they wouldn’t be celebrities, they would be a nobody and most fans know that celebrities aren’t actually their friends when they reply, when they interact they are just being decent, being polite. However, some fans take it further, a lot further as they think that the celebrity owes them something, it could be something as small as the fan bought a book by an author and now they are waiting for the sequel to be written and released, only, instead of waiting patiently, they perceive that they are ‘owed‘ the book, demand it be finished as soon as possible because they have previously supported the author and hound them at every opportunity. Perhaps some minor interaction occurred between the fan and the celebrity through shared interests and due to a personal reply from the celebrity they are under the impression that there is a ‘connection‘ and that there is something more there than there truly is. Or, they are just deranged anyway and it takes a while for it to show, they think that they know the celebrity as they follow them, keep up with all of their latest posts and they have deluded themselves into thinking that they have feelings for the celebrity, they are fixated on them, jealous over the people that are in their lives, the friend, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the husband or the wife, wishing it was them instead of that other person, in their mind they might even think like they ‘love‘ the celebrity, they want to involve themselves in the life of the celebrity, they are devoted to and want to be with them.
The Closer I Get is topical, it highlights the darker side of online interaction when admiration turns into harassment and the devastating fall out that can arise when online relationships turn bad, turn destructive for those involved.
Tom Hunter is a successful international best-selling author whose debut novel was made into a movie with a Hollywood star cast in the lead. His second book wasn’t well received, the wolves were baying at his door and since then he has been stuck writing his third book, the words don’t flow, the ideas won’t come and like a river, in the desert, his creativity has dried up.
Evie Stokes is Tom’s biggest fan, his biggest fan who is fixated on and obsessed with Tom and his work to an unhealthy level. The Closer I Get starts with an email from Evie to Tom. Not much is given away, a glimmer, a glimpse, a snippet, a hint and it acts as an augury, a foreshadowing of what will unfold during the course of the book. There’s an aura of the unhinged to the contents of the email showing the depth of the feelings that Evie has developed for Tom. It’s subtle but you feel that Evie is being far too nice and that there is far more to her words that are hidden beneath the surface.
The book then jumps back in time to eight months before with Tom in a police station, with Tom reporting Evie for her abusive and threatening online behaviour and for stalking.
The Closer I Get is the story of what led to Tom getting a restraining order against Evie and everything that comes after.
There is an ominous undercurrent that runs through the pages of The Closer I Get, hidden meanings, little things that don’t add up in both Tom and Evie’s stories. Secrets and lies that have been buried beneath the surface and that are waiting to be revealed. The waters are often murky, only instead of sediment and silt clouding the water, it is misdirection and doubts over the reliability of the words of Tom and Evie that cloud your perception of them. You can sense that certain things seem ‘off‘ but you can’t put a finger on it, you can’t quite figure out what exactly is ‘off’ with them and it causes a lurking dread, a nagging sense of doubt as you carry on reading and as you carry on trying to figure out who is telling the truth.
Both Tom and Evie are unreliable, you can’t trust them, their words or their recollection of events. Their goal is to make themselves look good, like the injured party, the victim and to cast fault at the footsteps of the other.
The question is just how reliable are they? There has to be some culpability on both sides, it takes two to form a relationship, to tango, to dance but which one of the pair stays closer to the truth, closer to the reality of what happened and which one of them is verging on the fanciful.
The Closer I Get shows the fall out when events by those who have become acquainted over social media platforms spiral out of control. The story is chilling with how easily conceivable it is, it is frighteningly imaginable and it is a tale of fixation, of half-truths, of lies, of infatuation and of obsession.
The story flows well in The Closer I Get, everything has a place, there’s snappy dialogue, a dark humour laced throughout and the deception, the smoke and mirrors and the misdirection are kept up perfectly for the entirety of the story and I was floored by the ending.
The characterisation for both Tom and Evie is superb, they are both fully-formed and flawed characters with individual personalities and you get a sense that the pair are devious, cunning, guileful and that, when required and if it means self-preservation then they can both be craftier than a fox.
Both first and third-person perspectives are used to great effect in The Closer I Get with chapters alternating between Tom and Evie, parrying back and forth, trading strikes and blows. Tom’s parts are told in the third-person and read more like a story about Tom and his efforts to put the pieces of his life back together, move on from Evie and the stress and the trauma that she has caused him and start writing again. Whereas Evie’s journal entries are told in the first-person. This feels far more personal and helps to give Evie’s chapters an extra insight into her character, a sense of her, a look into her past, her circumstances and her mind and you see the layers of the person forming before your eyes.
The Closer I Get is a very clever book, an unnerving yet thought-provoking read with a story that twists, turns and delves down some dark alleys complete with a shocking ‘I didn’t expect that‘ ending. It is thrilling, realistic and searingly plausible.
Pre-order The Closer I Get by Paul Burston published in ebook on May 11th, 2019 and in paperback on July 11th, 2019.
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