Book Review

Everything About You by Heather Child

everything about you

THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU SHARE YOUR LIFE ONLINE.

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.

It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her sister knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Set in the very near future, Everything About You is set in a London that is both recognisable and yet rather different to our own.  Technology has developed beyond today’s capabilities, including the creation of AI.  Social media and virtual reality gaming have become big business, and the majority of the population are permanently connected, sharing updates on their thoughts and activities real time as well as receiving “likes” for their online activity.  One of the latest developments is the smartface – a virtual assistant that will do as much as you let it.  Ordering food when the fridge is close to empty, making suggestions of what to do, what film to see, choosing music suitable to your mood, and identifying what is missing from your life, the smartface allows everyone to have their own personal assistant that knows exactly what they want, even if they aren’t entirely sure what that is.

The smartface can be set to take on a celebrity personality (including that of Prince George), and when Freya receives the latest version of the smartface, she is at first horrified when it adopts the personality of her foster sister, Ruby, who went missing several years earlier and who is presumed dead.  “Ruby’s” personality is assembled from her own online activity prior to her disappearance, and Freya becomes increasingly comforted by her smartface, as it begins to feel as though she has her sister with her once more, the speech patterns and attitude so close to the real Ruby that the two would be almost indistinguishable.  But the more she uses and interacts with the smartface, the more convinced she is that Ruby is alive and out there somewhere, as it knows more about her than it should, and is more like Ruby than you could reasonably expect.

I loved the interaction between Freya and her smartface, which are, after Freya’s initial dismay, warm and humorous, yet always with a slightly creepy edge as the smartface knows so much about Freya.  It’s clear that Ruby was a somewhat troubled individual with a difficult childhood, and yet she comes across as being a warm and outgoing person, and it’s clear that Freya misses her a great deal.   Ruby was always the bolder of the two, and I felt that Freya missed having someone to encourage her out of her comfort zone, and to give her that extra little nudge to push the boundaries.  Freya’s investigation into Ruby’s disappearance takes a little while to get going, but I loved the complexity behind her disappearance, which in a world of such surveillance is quite the achievement.  Freya’s search will take her a long way out of her comfort zone, forcing her to face up to her own fears and regrets, and I loved the way that Freya developed over the course of the novel.

I would say that Everything About You is a work of speculative, rather than science, fiction as well as a thriller, and Child combines the two effortlessly.  AI is a central theme, and Child picks up on some of the concerns that are held today such as the impact on employment with technology taking over menial and entry level roles, the dangers of sharing so much about ourselves online, and our over-reliance upon the technology that is available to us.  That said, Everything About You held a slightly more optimistic note than many similar novels, and it seemed that some people in the novel were considering the ethical aspects of the technology even if the negative elements were more apparent.  There’s also a nice nod to the current political turmoil, with references to the “European farce” of Brexit and Bre-entry!  The world building was fantastic, and I was desperate to find out what happened to Ruby, particularly as the reader shares in Freya’s feelings of futility when she is discouraged at every turn.  Highly recommend, particularly for fans of Black Mirror.

Everything About You is published in paperback on 21 February by Orbit, and is available in Hardback and digital formats now.

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