Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach.
Leila is a socially awkward young woman who has spent the past few years of her life caring for her mother, who was slowly dying from multiple sclerosis. Even though she didn't socialize very much, once her mother died, Leila was left pretty much alone in the world. She moved into her own apartment in London and (thanks to one of her mother's friends) got a job testing software from home. In her spare time, she mostly played online video games. It was through one of these games that she was introduced to the online forum called Red Pill. People on this site discussed philosophical issues, and those who were found to be "worthy" by the site's creator (a shadowy figure named Adrian) were invited into a private discussion group.
Eventually, Leila impresses Adrian enough for him to request an in-person meeting with her. Since Adrian has achieved something of a God-like status in the Red Pill community, Leila feels thrilled to be noticed by him. Once they meet, he presents her with a proposal: he wants Leila to take on the online persona of another person. The person in question, Tess, has decided to commit suicide, but doesn't want to upset her family and friends. She wants to kill herself but have Leila continue to impersonate her online so that no one will know she's dead. Eventually, Leila can begin to distance herself from everyone and gradually cease contact so that the truth won't be known. Tess will simply fade out and her contacts will believe she's still alive, just not very communicative.
Leila accepts the assignment. She's asked how much she wants to be paid for the job, and she comes up with the bare minimum she will need for rent and food. Because she's going to have to learn to be Tess, she quits her software job. She gets contact with Tess and begins learning about her friends, her background, and her style of communicating. This is all done online, although Tess does appear on a webcam from time to time so Leila can get a sense of her personality.
Once Tess has set a deadline for their contact (when she's going to end her life, in other words), it's up to Leila to come up with a plan for why Tess is suddenly physically gone (although still active online). She solves the problem by having Tess move across the world to a small island off the coast of Vancouver. Eventually, a man, Connor, contacts "Tess" and brings up things from a relationship the two of them had that Leila knows nothing about. Their relationship must not have been very important to Tess, since she never mentioned him, but Connor seems to be still in love with Tess. Even though she's only pretending to be Tess, Leila finds herself developing feelings for Connor.
There are also interludes scattered throughout the book in which Leila is at a commune in Spain, attempting to find out what happened to Tess. One of Tess's friends mentioned seeing her in Spain not long before, so Leila thinks that might be a good place to start. Eventually, there is a surprising twist to the story that causes Leila to face some unpleasant facts.
I thought the story was quite interesting, even if I did have some problems with it. For instance, if Tess wanted to simply "fade away" by gradually decreasing online contact with her loved ones, why not do it herself? Why involve other people? I also didn't understand where the money for this project was coming from. Tess would be dead, and Leila had very little money to begin with (she had to take in a lodger when there was an unexpected plumbing problem in her flat), so I didn't understand where she got the money for an impromptu trip to Spain.
Still, the story was quite engaging and I was interested to see where it was going to end up. I also liked the unexpected revelations that came up toward the end of the story. The London setting didn't hurt, either!
Final Verdict for Kiss Me First:
Four Gherkins, for being a page-turning thriller with an unbeatable setting
9 hours ago