Reading Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton left me rather surprised. It was quite different to the more traditional gothic horror titles in the Bloomsbury Raven series, but very much confirmed for me that the gothic can be written in the modern day and in a city environment. The narrative is well-told with intriguing, self-absorbed characters who’s worlds you just cannot help getting sucked into. This novel has all of the glitz and glamour of Gossip Girl tinged with a dark, eerie loneliness/friendship of The Roommate (2011 movie). Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton will be published on 14 June by Doubleday Books.
Set in Manhattan, New York, Social Creature follows the lives and friendship of two young women, Louise and Lavinia. Louise is juggling multiple jobs just to keep up with her low rental costs when she meets Lavinia through tutoring her younger sister, Cordelia. Lavinia and Louise go to multiple ostentatious parties, drinking too much and having lots of fun; they become the best of friends. People keep warning Louise, however, that Lavinia doesn’t hold on to friends for very long and that they all eventually fulfil their purpose or upset her. As Louise desperately tries to keep her friend and her new, lavish lifestyle, she embarks on a downward journey which can only end one way. One of the themes in this book is reality and fakery, as Louise often contemplates how long she can maintain her facade with all these people; who can be deceived and for how long.
Comments from the editor, Alison Hennessey:
“I love Social Creature because it’s a novel about terrible people behaving terribly, which is everything I enjoy”
What I liked
Honestly, the characters in Social Creature are vapid and self-absorbed and never have worries outside of their own wealthy existences. This is one thing I liked about it. Burton writes characters who we only think we will ever see caricatures of and if we met them in real life, we would actually discover their soft, non-privileged side and be able to connect. I loved that there was no side to these characters that wasn’t completely in it for themselves with little care for others unless they are helping them progress socially. I liked that Louise was fighting so hard in the beginning for her basic, overworked lifestyle, but that she relaxed as we all do when we are offered the opportunity. Lavinia is the embodiment of the crazy, slightly unstable party girl who will cling to friends like they are life rafts, and I liked that Burton did not skirt around this. These are not characters that everyone likes to read about, but if you do read this and don’t like them, appreciation should at least be given for their creation.
The story itself is quite captivating. From about 35% in, I started to enjoy the writing style, which can take a while to get used to, the conversational elements which make up a large section of the book, and the plot started to intensify. Once the plot intensified, there was no tearing me away from this novel. I really enjoyed the delivery of the key elements of the novel; Lavinia’s death happens in a good part of the book for the story to really begin to unravel. We see how Louise copes with it and what she does with her social status following her death. It is something that can’t be made up. You will question who these insane people are you are reading about.
“Social Creature is that book that you read quickly in one sitting on holiday; that’s what it’s made for!”
What I didn’t like
So, I was reading an advance copy, which meant that there were a few parts in which it was not clear who was speaking in conversations, which pulled me out of their ostentatious world. Aside from that, I will say that it would be easy to give up on this book in the first few chapters. Many people will not be able to relate to these characters, so will probably not be the biggest fan. I believe that this could have been improved with more mentions of Cordelia, who actually cares for her sister and has other worries outside of her own personal problems. I would tell people to try and stick past the 50% mark if possible, as this is where the real entertainment begins.
Overall, I thought that Burton’s novel, Social Creature offered great insight into and critique of society’s elite and those wanting to join their world. It almost reads as a love letter to Lavinia, and the Lavinias of this world who are just trying to find themselves in the crazy world into which they are born and a great big, red warning to those who may want to venture in. There are a lot of links to worlds including Gossip Girl, Private, Sex and the City, Dynasty and many more elite society dramas. I would recommend this book for anybody looking for a darker take on the typical stories of over privileged youth, or anybody looking to read outside their comfort zone and pull them out of a reading slump.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Raven for my advance reader e-copy in exchange for an honest review.