For those who carry a bookshelf with them on-the-go, Amazon releases a variety of e-books monthly for $3.99 or less. I’m here to discover narratives written by female authors and let you know if they’re worth storing on your virtual bookshelf.
Ah, dystopias – we can’t live in them, but we can’t live without them either. Woke Up Lonely by novelist Fiona Maazel is a spiralling read about the conditions of a bewildered humanity in search of the cure for loneliness – a soundless epidemic with uncertain origin.
The novel fleshes out the lives of two people, Thurlow and Esme, using a deep, third person perspective that at times feels visceral, as if the narrator breaks the wall between characters and the reader. Through Thurlow and Esme’s relationship, the novel branches off into the perspectives of four other characters – Anne-Janet, Ned, Bruce, and Olgo – who are consumed by the everyday obscurity of their lives and thrown into a secret mission to overthrow Thurlow’s design of the Helix – an anti-lonely cult inspired by his separation from his wife, Esme, and his daughter Ida. To combat the contagion of loneliness, Thurlow’s organization holds speed-dating sessions, mixers, and spaces for people to talk about the isolation of their lives to others who empathize. Ironically, in Thurlow’s attempt to overturn his own feelings of loneliness by the bringing together of others who share similar feelings, Thurlow cannot compensate for the lack of Esme and Ida – a familial dynamic he willingly chose to step away from, though he simultaneously regretted in thought.
In theory, Thurlow wanted to feel the closeness of family and yet, in practice, he felt and created a distance between those who mattered most. As Thurlow’s cult against loneliness grew, outside countries like North Korea wanted to help fund his niche – though not entirely for Thurlow’s purpose of reuniting with wife, but entirely for militant strategies naturally placing Thurlow at risk. Cue in Esme: an undercover agent, also his ex-wife, ordered to collect intel on Thurlow (before they were married) to shut down the Helix and its foreign ties. In theory, Esme still loved Thurlow and yet she chose to observe the growing distance between her and the cult leader despite the tugs on her heart. Cue in one, big complication that parallels into the lives of Anne-Janet, Ned, Bruce, and Olgo – a team assembled by Esme to unravel the Helix who face similar issues of unhappiness and despair.
Like any good novel should, Woke Up Lonely stirred up a number of questions inside me that felt the need to express themselves – naturally waking me out of sleep – on several yellow Post-it notes. The mini thoughts on my night table read: Is love equatable to where you are wanted, or is it what you want? Are we responsible to love those who claim to love us? Is love governed by the fear of loneliness? Do we just enjoy observing concepts like love, instead of being in love? Is having love and being in love synonymous? I digress.
Back to the one, big complication that permeates the novel. I’m going to do my best in turning to a theory by psychoanalyst Jacque Lacan to help with this one: anxiety (or in this case, the anxiety of loneliness) is generated by a lack that is lacking (I know, huh?). In a simpler sense: the anxiety of being lonely stems directly from the desire to fill loneliness with symbols of love. We tend to feel like we are always missing something, despite having everything we need to produce that “something,” because without the desire of a lack, there is no sense of being (says Lacan). Fulfilling ourselves with others places us at a vulnerable state of dependency to be, yet recognition by others is the only way we are. This causes us to want love, yet repel love at the same time. A great example of this can be seen through Ned’s story: a man who finds out he’s adopted and has a sister who he’s never met. In desiring to meet his sister as a way to fulfil his loneliness, of which he does, he – along with his family – dies in a plane crash following their reunion. Though extreme, Ned’s separation from his sister symbolized his survival – when that lack was no longer, he literally kicked the bucket.
By the end of the novel, Thurlow holds Anne-Janet, Ned, Bruce, and Olgo as hostages for the ransom of Esme and his daughter. Though I don’t want spoil the novel any more than I already have, Thurlow and Esme’s journey doesn’t end so differently from Ned’s – or from the rest of the characters in fighting their own measures of loneliness.
I’m happy to have stumbled upon Woke Up Lonely for only $2.62 on Amazon, and even happier to have discovered the thought-provoking writing of Fiona Maazel. The e-book currently sits with 3 stars, though I’d like to raise it to 4.5 for the same reason that many Amazon reviews were daunted by the multiple perspectives and storylines. I felt a weird appreciation for Maazel’s ability to make me feel like I was ignoring certain characters by being consumed by the others temporarily (was Esme lonely when I wasn’t on her shoulders?). Admittedly, I missed one when I was given someone else (so maybe I felt lonely but Maazel knew better than to completely fill that void).