Social Creature is an outrageous, biting novel that takes elements of Bret Easton Ellis and The Secret History and other detailed literary thriller-type books and gives them a modern twist. Louise lives in New York City in a shabby apartment in a sketchy location, working multiple jobs and barely even claiming to be a writer any more. In a twist of fate, she meets Lavinia: rich, fun, breathtaking, with a beautiful home and a social life to die for. Somehow, Lavinia pulls Louise into her world, sharing her clothes and paying for their Ubers as they party their way through the wannabe literati of NYC. However, this charmed life surely cannot last forever, and Louise might have to take drastic action if she wants to keep living like her new best friend.
Burton’s writing is fast and precise, using detail in a variety of ways to be both satiric and further the narrative. Instead of business cards and restaurant reservations, this is social media likes and ridiculous tea flavours. Online opinion writing is the big thing, selfies capture moments that barely even happen, and as long as someone keeps up an internet presence, no one will worry. This is an excessive world, parodic at times, but also the life that Louise wants is clearly one that could be real, if someone believed every article and photo they saw online and thought they too could have that.
The narrative is clever in its simplicity: not full of twists and turns, but a situation that continues beyond belief. Small moment of a fourth-wall breaking narrative voice may seem incongruous, but they give fleeting hints that they and the reader know the genre, the inevitability of this story. As with other similar books, it isn’t really a thriller, but also it has the pace of one in many ways, as well as the darkness. It addresses the homoerotic tension usually present in these kind of stories, as well as seeming to explore how a female friendship at the heart of the narrative might be different to tales of all-consuming male friendships.
Social Creature isn’t doing something new, but twisting a kind of book usually written or set in the nineties into a kind of millenial hell. There’s pretentious literary quotes and classical scholars, the desperation of trying to become part of a rich world you can’t afford to be in, an all-consuming new friend with an overpowering personality, but there’s also Instagram, secret hipster speakeasy bars, and opinion websites called Misandry!.