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A cautionary tale for an online world

24 June 2019
Written by Sophia Halpin
The first novel by IH alumna Lulu Smyth reveals the dangers of modern technology, and the slippery slope of controlling your personal narrative in an online world.
Book cover of two faces starting in opposite directions

There are few people of my generation who could honestly say they’ve never indulged in a bit of a Facebook stalk at one time or another. Or perhaps on Instagram, or Twitter. We all know the feeling of emerging, blinking, to find you’ve lost track of time, wandering down the social media rabbit role. Eva Hutchings, first-person narrator of CLICK, has that particular bug even worse than most millennials; for her, it forms an obsession, and one with horrific consequences.

The story unfolds in fragments, jumping back and forth in time, tempting the reader with ominous foreshadowings before cutting back to a seemingly unrelated piece of narrative. It tells of Eva’s first year at university, when she meets the mysterious Marina. During this time, she is living in a student dorm, and I could not help but envision her in my old room at IH, the light of her computer screen spilling onto the brick walls. The university where she studies is set in England, but my imagination kept sneaking jacaranda blossoms into the background. And the dingy student house party where undergrads spout self-important philosophies over red wine! Against A cautionary tale for an online world.

This story is about the webs of lies which people have always woven, more than it is about the worldwide web.
Sophia Halpin

I was transported right back to my first year and a share house at 123 Cleveland Street. Any USYD arts student will recognise the characters populating this book, but the worst thing to realise is that we probably were those characters, at some point, and to some extent. And this realisation does come with a cringe, because all the figures in CLICK are distasteful at best, and downright hateful at worst. Even the protagonist is unlikeable – and perhaps it is her cynicism and misanthropy which inform the reader’s judgement of the supporting characters; Eva is anything but a reliable narrator. As the story progresses, she is drawn into a tangle of deceit and false façades, much of it of her own making.

The novel’s tagline is “You never really know who you’re talking to online…” but really, this story is about the webs of lies which people have always woven, more than it is about the worldwide web. The internet may provide a platform for Eva and Marina to perform and experiment with identities, but this novel is so much more than a cautionary tale about the dangers of modern technology. It’s about the desire to control your own narrative and how others perceive you, and about the struggles for power that underpin so many human relationships. I could go all Sartre on you here, but I worry that’d make me sound too much like a character from this novel.

I have to be honest, the first half of this book moved quite slowly, and if I were to put my postgrad editing degree into use (cheers, USYD), I would advise cutting it down a fair bit in order to speed up the plot and keep the tension humming. When it picks up though, it’s a truly thrilling read, and I devoured the whole second-half in one sitting. The twists and turns and high-stakes intrigues kept me hooked, and as manipulators became victims and vice versa, I was reminded strongly and positively of The Girl on the Train and other modern hits of that genre. Those who remember Lulu’s acerbically clever articles for Honi Soit back in 2012-13 won’t be surprised that the writing is insightful, eloquent, witty, and evocative. And it’s surely the sign of an excellent writer if you tear through most of the book on the edge of your seat, despite wanting to push the protagonist off the IH rooftop. 

Meet the reviewer

Sophia Halpin (IH 2012) spent one of the best years of her life at IH and has since made sure to always be involved in international communities and cross-cultural education. She now works as a teacher and social program coordinator at Twin English Language Centre in London (moonlighting as a theatre reviewer in her spare time). She has completed a Bachelor of Arts (Languages), followed by postgraduate study in publishing and editing, and a CELTA teaching qualification.

About the author

Lulu Smyth (IH 2012-13)
Lulu spent her study abroad year at the University of Sydney, where she lived at International House. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English literature from the University of York and a master’s in renaissance literature from Oxford University. As well as her novel CLICK, she has written culture pieces for The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, Prospect and The Times Literary Supplement. She lives in London, where she works as a scriptwriter.
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