Mentioned one day by my friend Margaret, I happened to spot a copy in an English bookshop cafe in Grenoble just a couple of days later. May I describe it as a bookseller must? Hard cover in good nick, dust-jacket, 5Euros. Bargain.
I have to say it rather depressed me, reading this. It described a world I don’t live in and would not want to. The obsession with brand which bizarrely meant not that this girl eschewed brand in her own life, but that every bit of her life consists of the high snob factor of brand. Brand nonetheless. I found it completely mysterious that although labelling made her break out in spots and panic and so on – an allergy to the notion – nonetheless she lives in Starbucks. I thought we were going to have an explanation of that at one point, when a character actually asked her what gives, but no. She just stares at him and they move on. Well, they might have, but I couldn’t. Starbucks gives me the willies and I don’t vomit on sight of Michelin Man, the childhood start of her issues. So why was she immune? She has a well paying job as a consequence of her weirdness, telling companies whether or not a proposed logo makes her chunder. Nice work if you can get it.
Another thing – the marketing, the way in which the despotic nature of Western idea of free choice combined with technology – facebook, if you like – described in great detail added to my depression. Not that I didn’t realise, I guess, how fake the ‘like’ is, or that one ends up with an artificial sense of what is good through the tyranny of peer group pressure as evidenced by online behaviour. But reading it in a novel somehow makes it worse. Good looking chicks have jobs hanging around in bars and giving out messages to guys trying to lay them – casual references to a site or product which makes optimistic male give it a LIKE. Gets somebody else to LIKE. And before you know it, something is LIKED all over the place, probably by people who don’t even know what it is, but hey, they want to be seen LIKING this thing too. They don’t want to be the ones who miss out.
Then there is Russia. Ugggh. Flavour of the month where I’m living at the moment, but this Russia? Gibson’s Russia? I want to be well away. And like the technology, the branding, the marketing, I recognise that Gibson’s Russia is real from the glimpses I see, reflections in the way one picks them up these days. Some years ago I’d seen the idea of capitalism at its worst in Wild East, a play by April De Angelis. But there it was with the wit and sophistication – the immediacy – of the theatre. Here its bleakness has nothing to relieve it. Maybe there is no way of relieving it.
Lastly, there is the hunt by capitalism, aided in this case by the main character, to plunder the creativity of those who don’t live in the Brand World. I know this is real too. I knit a bit and knitters and like crafty types occasionally take a big company through the legal ropes to get compensation for the theft of their creative endeavours. But still, the process of stealing that on the street in order to manufacture it, to market it as COOL, thus sucking its COOLNESS out of it in the process – it makes you shake your head to contemplate the nonsensical nature of it all and it is somehow different written down in a story. A good story teller makes a knot in your stomach out of this stuff.
In short, Gibson describes a parallel world that I seldom have anything to do with, but that gives me the heebee jeebies just thinking about it. Sort of like knowing your skin is covered in a parallel world of tiny creepy things and mainly you get on okay despite that, but now and then you think about it – you get a blown up picture of one of those things on you and it feels like it must matter, surely this thing is an alien. Surely it is going to eat you from the skin in. Surely it is going to –
But it doesn’t, and the parallel world Gibson describes strikes me as the same. It can be all around you, but until a writer blows it up big with his microscope and his magnifying glass, you don’t really even have to know it is there. You can ignore the Starbucks sign just like you ignore the teensy mites living off you all the time. Try it. I promise you, you can.
In brief: this is my first Gibson, it is a light read, my idea of airplane reading and it gets several stars for what I imagine to be its capacity to get me through a long haul, alas, unlike his protagnosists, not in business class.