Lara Williams – The Odyssey

Lara Williams – The Odyssey

It’s been five years now that Ingrid has left her husband and former life to work on board the luxury cruise liner WA. She regularly has to rotate between the different departments and thus has become an expert of the ship and knows every corner. With Mia and her brother Ezra, she has befriended two colleagues with whom she passes her limited free time. When she is selected for a mentorship programme and promoted to manager, things become more complicated between them, Mia is obviously envious of her friend’s new position. Yet, Ingrid is not sure if she can fulfil the high expectations of Keith, captain and guru of the team. But she is willing to give all – and that is more than you could ever imagine.

After having finished reading “The Odyssey”, I was left wondering and confused. Lara Williams’ novel was a hilarious read until it wasn’t anymore. It is somehow a totally exaggerated caricature of the cruise ship and well-being industries and on the other hand, from the middle of the novel on, I was wondering if the plot actually takes place on a cruise ship or if much rather the staff are actually patients of a psychiatric ward for whom the “cruise ship” is a kind of simulation of real life.

The cruise liner offer all a tourist might want to ask, there is no need to leave it since you have several restaurants serving all tastes, all kinds of shops and treatments to make your stay a perfect break-out. It doesn’t matter that the staff is hardly trained, they are friendly and the guest is king. Just as the employees are pretend-professionals, all aboard is just fake and serving a superficial image of perfection. Had social media not been invented yet, this cruise liner would surely underline the need for it.

Ingrid’s past is slowly revealed throughout the novel. That she more or less fled her former life is obvious, however, the reasons remain in the dark for a long time. The non-life she leads has become the perfect escape and spending hours in her small cabin staring at the ceiling is all she wants to do. The mentorship programme forces her to get out of her cave and think about herself and her life. Keith is the ultimate travesty of a guru. His concept is quite limited but with enough cold water and matcha tea he can create a spiritual atmosphere to impress his underlings.

This might all be very funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it seemed much too real to me. Even though the cruise ship is a special setting, what happens there is not too far from our life that has become more online fake than real for many and where behind the sparkly facade, you can find highly insecure and troubled people. Reckless gurus can easily become leaders spreading their nonsense and making masses of people follow their rules not matter how senseless.

A novel you can laugh out loud while reading but which leaves you with an uneasy feeling when thinking about what you’ve just read.

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

When the unnamed narrator seizes the chance to snoop through her boyfriend’s phone – which he normally does not let out of his sight – she discovers that he has a large Instagram account on which he spreads conspiracy theories. She is confused but admittedly, she was already thinking about splitting up and now she’s got a good reason. However, her plan – telling him after returning from the women’s march against Trump – fails totally because when she’s still in Washington, his mother informs her of his fatal bike accident. Even though she already was detached emotionally, this hits her hard and literally throws her out of her life. She quits her job and travels to Berlin, the city where they first met and where she hopes to find out what she expects from life and what she actually wants to do professionally.

Lauren Oyler’s novel is a portrait of a somehow lost generation who lives a double life: one in the real world, where many of them are lost and orbiting around aimlessly, and one in the online world, where they can create an idea of themselves, a person they would like to be and play a role according to their likes. Yet, the more followers they generate, the more narcissistic they become and inevitably, the fake life in the world-wide web has an impact on reality, too. Slowly, they also start to create fake personalities there and increasingly lack the necessary authenticity and sincerity it needs to have serious relationship with others.

The narrator lives such a life in both spheres at the same time, her job involves roaming the net for good stories she can re-use and pimp for the magazine she works at. After leaving her old life behind and moving to Europe, she does not even start to create a new life in Berlin, neither does she try to learn German nor does she really make acquaintances. She dates people she gets to know online simply to tell each one a different story about who she is – she successfully transfers the possibility of a fake online account into real life. However, this does not make her any happier.

In a certain way, this is funny and ironic since it is so much over the top that it cannot be real. But is it really? Are people still able to make a distinction between the two? And which consequences does this have for us? We are all aware of how photos can be photoshopped, how information online can be embellished or simply wrong and we pay attention when we are approached by someone online whom we don’t know. In real life however, don’t we expect that people tell us the truth at least to a certain extent? And especially in a relationship, aren’t sincerity and truthfulness necessary foundations to build trust in each other?

An interesting study in how far our online behaviour may fire back – not something we can really wish for. Even though the tone is light and often funny, is leaves you somehow with a bad aftertaste.

James Rayburn – Fake

James Rayburn – Fake

Die Friedensverhandlungen versprechen endlich etwas Ruhe in das kriegsgebeutelte Syrien zu bringen. Ein Drohnenangriff der Amerikaner tötet jedoch nicht nur ein beabsichtigtes Ziel, sondern auch Catherine Finch, Ärztin, die seit längerem als Geisel in der Hand des IS ist und durch aufsehenerregende Videos zu einer Berühmtheit in ihrer Heimat wurde. Kommt dies an die Öffentlichkeit, wird der ganze Prozess gefährdet. Die Regierung entscheidet, dass dies ein Auftrag für den Ex-Agenten Pete Town ist, der zu Finchs Ehemann beordert wird und diesen instruiert, das Überleben seiner Frau gegenüber den Medien zu beteuern. Ein kleiner Auftrag scheint es, der schnell abgeschlossen sein wird, doch dann läuft einiges aus dem Ruder und Pete Town ist ebenso in Lebensgefahr wie seine Frau und unzählige weitere Unschuldige.

Roger Smith hat unter dem Pseudonym „James Rayburn“ seinen zweiten Spionagethriller veröffentlicht, der eigentlich nichts zu wünschen übriglässt: ein hochkomplexes internationales politisches Geflecht; Agenten, die schneller die Fronten wechseln als man sich umsehen kann; Zivilisten, die sich maßlos überschätzen und dadurch in Lebensgefahr bringen und ein paar Menschen, die einfach nur aus der Lage der Welt Geld machen wollen.

Der Roman hat ein extrem hohes Tempo und die unterschiedlichen Parteien, die in den Fall involviert und deren Absichten und Motive nicht unmittelbar zu durchschauen sind, sorgen für die notwendige Spannung, die man von einem Thriller erwarten würde. Dabei verzichtet der Autor auf einfache schwarz-weiß-Malerei; ähnlich komplex wie die globalen-geführten Konflikte sind auch die Beweggründe der Figuren, vor allem die beiden Protagonisten entwickeln im Laufe der Handlung immer mehr ungeahnte Facetten, die sie realistisch und authentisch wirken lassen, denn kaum einmal ist die Wirklichkeit einfach zu erklären und verläuft nur höchste selten geradlinig. So entsteht eine Story, die alle Erwartungen an einen glaubhaften Spionagethriller voll erfüllt.