Sophie White | £13.99 | 9781529343427 | 336pp | Hachette Books Ireland | June 2020
Review by Joanne O’Sullivan
Sophie White’s new novel, Unfiltered, is a wild guide to the cult of Irish influencers and the consequences of being addicted to the adrenaline rush of Instagram notifications. It might not always offer the most realistic look at social media, but it’s undeniably entertaining—and, besides, who needs realism at a time like this? If you’re happy to hear the term ‘Insta’ tagged on to a lot of words (‘Instahun’, ‘Instamum’, etc.) and indulge in some soap-opera-level drama, then jump on board and forget about the real world for a while.
Unfiltered picks up where Sophie White’s first book, Filter This, left off and follows the Instagram influencers Ali and Shelly as they navigate their online fame and real-life problems. Ali is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend Sam’s baby—for real this time, as opposed to her previous fake pregnancy designed to boost her online profile. While dealing with the fallout of the social media pile on and manoeuvring her way back into the lucrative influencer industry, she’s also processing her dad’s death from Alzheimer’s and the prospect of raising her baby without Sam. Shelly is trying to manage the breakdown of her marriage while still maintaining her picture-perfect life for the ’gram—which is considerably more difficult when contending with an anonymous online stalker who’s threatening to expose some of her more ‘embellished’ claims on social media.
Shelly and Ali are supported by a cast of other characters from the Irish social media set, and their dutiful family and friends. All the antics understandably don’t leave room for many of them to be developed, but there are some excellent personalities that illustrate White’s skill for satire. Ali’s best friend Liv, a master’s student in DCU with a purely academic interest in social media and influencers, is a welcome for those who might not be au fait with the language and norms of the Insta-world. Amy, Shelly’s business manager and recruited to rehabilitate Ali’s image, is a brilliant addition as the driven social media strategist skilled at turning #blessed into lucrative business.
It’s clear that White has her finger on the pulse of social media and all its consequences, and her insight shines through in many areas of the book. As co-host of podcasts like Mother of Pod, the Creep Dive and Vulture Club she has plenty of knowledge worth mining on topics like modern motherhood, the oddities of the internet and pop culture. She draws a lot of inspiration from the real world, and even if the plot sometimes seems stranger than fiction, some of the most dramatic scenarios are closer to true events than you might think. The Catfishers Anonymous support group that Ali is directed to join is a perfect example of where melodrama meets the modern world. The attendees and their stories of online deception are amusing and bizarre, but the phenomenon of nameless internet trolls and the surprisingly ordinary lives they might otherwise lead is undeniably relevant. The influencer-led wellness festival WYND is an enjoyably Irish adaptation of the infamous Fyre fest with some extra theatrics thrown in for good measure.
The book title suggests an unvarnished look at the lives of professionally curated Instagram stars—and we definitely get a warts-and-all look at what goes on behind the camera. As well as offering a look behind the scenes of sponsored content and professional contentment, Unfiltered goes one step further and turns up the technicolour on the Insta-universe. Some of the drama should come with a seatbelt warning for the wild ride, but White’s depictions of modern social media habits and obsessions with living your best life online are absolutely worth the attention.
Review by Joanne O’Sullivan