Little Eyes is a novel that I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it. I think that it’s a strange yet compelling idea to explore the way in which we act in our increasingly connected world through what is essentially a toy, and while this is something that you might expect in an episode of Black Mirror, it’s not all negative.
They’ve infiltrated homes in Hong Kong, shops in Vancouver, the streets of Sierra Leone, town squares of Oaxaca, schools in Tel Aviv, bedrooms in Indiana.
They’re not pets, nor ghosts, nor robots. They’re real people, but how can a person living in Berlin walk freely through the living room of someone in Sydney? How can someone in Bangkok have breakfast with your children in Buenos Aires, without you knowing? Especially when these people are completely anonymous, unknown, untraceable.
The characters in Samanta Schweblin’s wildly imaginative new novel, Little Eyes, reveal the beauty of connection between far-flung souls but they also expose the ugly truth of our increasingly linked world. Trusting strangers can lead to unexpected love, playful encounters and marvellous adventures, but what if it can also pave the way for unimaginable terror? Schweblin has created a dark and complex world that is both familiar but also strangely unsettling, because it’s our present and we’re living it we just don’t know it yet.
Little Eyes is a novel that explores our online connections through kentukis – small toys / robots that are controlled remotely by another person. Each kentuki represents a two-person relationship – the keeper, who owns the kentuki, and the dweller, who controls it. You have no control who you will be linked up with – it’s purely down to the luck of the draw. It’s a strange idea, and yet one that is deceptively simple and astute. Would you buy a toy that allows a complete stranger, someone that you’re unable to trace unless they make it easy for you, access to your home and life? It wasn’t until I started reading the novel that it occurred to me that many people already do this. Those pictures taken and posted online and via social media showing parts of your home and / or family, the snippets we share about ourselves provide others – including complete strangers – a glimpse into our lives. Little Eyes highlights the way in which we are now more connected than ever, for better or worse.
It sounds quite doom and gloom, but Schweblin shows the good as well as the bad and the downright ugly, and some of the stories are surprisingly upbeat. I particularly liked the story of a young boy in Antigua who controls a kentuki in Norway. He makes new friends and is able to explore a part of another country – one that is very different from his own – and to experience snow for the first time, albeit one step removed. Schweblin does also highlight the downsides and the individuals – the minority – who will use such technology to take advantage of others, and the way in which our online interactions may sometimes spill over into the real world. I like the way that each chapter highlights the location of keeper and dweller, showing how far our connections can now extend, no longer bound by geography.
Little Eyes is a fascinating novel. Creepy in places, it’s a novel that encourages caution when sharing information and details about ourselves, but one that doesn’t deny that there are benefits as well as downsides.
Little Eyes was published by Oneworld on 31 March, and was longlisted for the International Booker Prize. Written by Samanta Schweblin, it was translated into English by Megan McDowell.
I don’t often mention the cover of a book, but this one particularly grabbed me – particularly when you see the back of the dust jacket as well as the front… creepy, no?