She wrote the bulk of the book in three months in a self-confessed "fever-dream", fitting for a novel rife with mysterious illnesses, identity slippages and swift, feverish descents down social media's rabbit holes. The narrative's non-linear structure imitates the feeling of scrolling through an Instagram feed, where past and present co-exist and a #tbt might pop up at any time. It was meticulously plotted, so that Sudjic's writing space looked more like "a crime scene" than an author's desk. "It just felt like a much more authentic way of storytelling according to the way modern minds work," she says.
"Throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us" - Olivia Sudjic
Sudjic compares buying a smart phone to a kind of Faustian pact: "There's this trade off between privacy and convenience." She points me to the novel's epigraph, a line from Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice tells the Red Queen, "I wouldn't mind being a pawn, if only I might join." It is exactly this bargain we enter into when we share information about ourselves online. I ask whether Olivia was nervous about writing Alice as a character who, though the driving force of the novel, is quite passive – a pawn – when it comes to her interactions IRL. "She is passive, but I feel like that passivity is what a lot of our generation is coping with. The digital apparatus we have with which to effect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive."It's proof of Sudjic's electric talent that Alice's voice remains captivating, even as she seems to become a conduit for other people's experiences (her boyfriend Dwight's, for instance). Alice is simultaneously relatable and inscrutable, sympathetic, caustic and infuriating all at the same time. Of course she is – she's a 23-year-old trying to figure out her place in the world.Acutely aware of the difference in the ways male and female novelists are asked to promote their books, Sudjic says she fought hard to keep the novel's original title. "I just thought, if Franzen can do it, I can. Men seem to have ownership of those one word titles. Also, I couldn't believe that it hadn't already been used, given what novels, from their genesis, are supposed to be about."
"The digital apparatus we have with which to affect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive" – Olivia Sudjic