You – Caroline Kepnes Book Review

YOU is an intensely nerve racking and creepy novel with a touch black humour, leading towards the end that will have you screaming. YOU gives the reader an insight into the theme of love, romance and relationships of a different kind – control and obsession in a frighteningly disturbing fashion.

download“You” must have been the single, most disturbing, most contemporary piece of literal fiction dealing with a stalker in the age of digital media. Imagine a person taking a fancy on you. He sees your name on your credit card and then searches for it. He finds your Facebook account, he finds your Twitter account, your Instagram. He follows you and pretty soon he knows that your apartment is small, your friends names, where you live, what you do and where you will be.
He bumps into you on the way out of a club. You don’t recognize him but he does. He has been waiting for you. He takes you home.

Joe Goldberg works in a bookstore. He is acutely aware of his own intelligence and feels at odds with a society that wants to read Dan Brown and Stephen King when he would rather read E.E. Cummings and Paula Fox. Into his store comes Guinevere Beck, an aspiring writer. Joe becomes obsessed with Beck and starts to follow her, including taking possession of her phone, which allows him (and us) access to her own thoughts. Joe is convinced of the purity of his actions; although both he and Beck are very sexual in their thoughts and actions, Joe believes that he is embarking on an epic love story. He is acutely observant of the faults of others but blind to Beck’s, and it becomes clear that she has nearly as many as him.

THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE. This book is to romance what The Shining is to self-help books.

15369459I absolutely loved this book from the first page. It is incredibly clever, contemporary and funny. It reminded me very much of Catcher In The Rye and The Rachel Papers, both of which I also love. Joe is himself very funny, albeit in a deeply disturbing way. Much of what he says is right – people are not very attractive when looked at in bulk, Dan Brown is rubbish, Beck’s friends are awful and living one’s life through social media is vacuous and, as this book shows, risky.

10653494He is also somewhat tragic; there is nothing fundamentally wrong (in a social sense) with Joe, he is just flawed in that he chases an ideal that is impossible. Like many of his heroes, Joe is himself a ‘phoney’. He is man who takes ‘aimless’ walks that lead back to his own apartment and who is eventually smitten by the Da Vinci Code. He is cleverer than those he hates, but prefers to sit on the outside taking potshots rather than prove himself to anyone else. A scene in Ikea is worth the price of the book on its own.

The really amazing thing about ‘You’ is that it is written by a woman. If ‘You’ was written by a man (like Salinger or Amis), Joe would be a major achievement. Kepnes is able to support him with equally clever, credible female characters (unlike Amis, in particular). Beck is selfish, vague, lazy and narcissistic. Her friends are, if anything, bitchier, more self-obsessed and needier. Together, they represent a generation who have nothing interesting to say, but a need to Tweet it anyway. Joe shows us that living life with this transparency is profoundly dangerous.

Having read the reviews of ‘You’, it is clear that many people hate it. I can understand why they would say this – the characters are universally unloveable, and the language (very) fruity. The ‘message’ is pretty bleak and 400 pages in the company of Joe Goldberg is, occasionally, a pretty bleak place to be. But that is the beauty of reviews – I am not saying that you will love it, I am just saying that I did.

The ending left a pretty big plot berg, but YOU was strangely addictive. What’s even more strange was how Kepnes somehow got me to both root for Joe and be disgusted with him and myself simultaneously. Excuse me, I need to shower.

Moral of the story
Be careful what breadcrumbs of yourself you leave online and when you want to start dating someone, make sure you run a background check on him. You’ll be surprised what you find.
Also – when you lose your phone, make sure you disable it, change your password for all your social media accounts and for God’s sake, do not walk naked in front of coverless windows.

About the Author

Caroline Kepnes works as a journalist, having covered pop culture for Entertainment Weekly, Tiger Beat, Teen Machine, E! Online, and Yahoo! TV. She has also written for the television shows 7th Heaven and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She lives in Los Angeles.

2018 Update

There is now a TV Show based on this book! So excited! 

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