In this age of personal empowerment, the only one who can write your story, you’re told, is you. Yet postmodern life never feels so clear and simple. You don a brave mask against a bewildering world, construct an online persona that resembles you but is always much happier, and more beautiful, than you ever feel inside. Who is your professional self, really? Your public self? Your family self? Are they any less real than the private you, if you even know who that is any more? Somehow you’re never the hero of your own tale. Some other hand is always writing you.
Take Alex Moore. Until a few months ago, she was just another broken nobody, all her early promise abandoned for a drudge job at a boring firm, with a nice boyfriend, and a nice life, in which nothing ever happened. Then one day, lightening struck and she was transformed into just the kind of self-promoting, self-inventing entrepreneur beloved of the burgeoning London tech scene. Today, she’s riding high, CEO of fêted startup Eudemonia. So why, whenever she tries to think about her transformation, does she want to empty her guts onto the floor? How to explain the aching gap at the heart of her?
Molly Flatt’s The Charmed Life of Alex Moore begins as a sharp, observant portrait of a woman riding the wave of digital-age stardom. But as weird, sometimes violent events start to challenge Alex’s perfect existence, her shaky certainties are blown apart. As she learns the true reasons for the rupture in her personal narrative, the novel, too, transforms, broadening into something with far more range and scope than a comedy of Shoreditch manners. Something more fantastical. To find answers, this privileged millennial must travel to a forgotten Orknean island, where she encounters a more rooted way of life, in a community committed to preserving an ancient source of power known as The Library.
Along with Alex, the reader is expertly drawn into a tale of adventure, centred around this oddball island community that’s somehow responsible for the life course of every human being on the planet. To prevent calamity, she’ll need to face up to everything she’s been refusing to confront about her own past, and an unspoken pain at the heart of her family. Along the way Flatt extracts some delicious satire from Alex’s attempts to rationalise the workings of the mystical Library, using the limited set of reference points provided to her by London’s hipster tech scene.
This is a dynamic, beautifully written debut that moves effortlessly between ultra-contemporary London, the wilds of a remote Scottish island, and a fantastic reality that underpins them both. Equal parts romance, adventure, satire and fantasy, it’s a book that defies easy categorisation and is all the better for it. It deserves a success that’s every bit as rapid as Alex Moore’s, but far more enduring.