Woman Abuse in the time of Facebook
”Who You Think I Am”, the novel from the award winning French author, Camille Laurens, presents the reader with the troubling repercussions produced in personal lives by social media and the virtual world, particularly in relationships by those obsessive love-hungry individuals that fill their lives with distant little known or unknown persons.
Narrated by several characters in the first person style, reading the novel is like listening to someone directly talking to us. First, Clair, the central character is a 46 year old divorced woman who is desperate to love and to be loved. She narrated to her psychotherapist her painful relationships, including the tragic emotional Facebook virtual connection with Chris, a man twelve years younger who she never met in person. The novel also includes a notebook about this relationship written by Claire and read by her physiotherapist. Among the character the author adds a novelist who wrote and intends to publish Clair dreadful story. Each one presents a different perspective of Claire complex life, making the book a thriller which could be read as a plot made for cinema, plot, that I don’t intend to reveal.
Notwithstanding the complexity of the story, it is relatively easy to follow for the consistency and the connections of the characters, timeframes, and sequences, which, with some attention, are easy to follow.
Claire, the central character is unable to communicate with Joe, her abusive previous boyfriend with who she had a real physical painful failed relationship. She continues to be obsessively in love with him and incapable to accept the fact the relation ended badly. Looking at Joe’s Facebook page, Clair discovers that Joe is sharing his home in the countryside with Chris, a frustrated photographer. To follow Joe’s and keep some form of connection with him, she creates a fake personality on Facebook in the form of a seductive, attractive and intelligent twenty four years old woman, a girl passionate about photography. who starts to following Chis. In Clair’s own account, “It wasn’t Chris I was trying to get to at all, at first. I didn’t know him, I wasn’t interested in him. I asked him to be my friend on Facebook just to have news of Joe—Joel. I was going out.., with Joe, at the time.”
After sharing profiles, both engage in daily virtual chats and electronic intimate exchanges, making Chris to fall in love with Clair’s virtual character, Also named Clair but she change the family name to Antunes, a name taken from the famous Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes.
To make the virtual character more realistic, Clare uses the manners and life style of her niece Katia who is approximately the same age as the fake persona. Katia’s parents died in a car accident when she was very young and Clair adopted her as a daughter.
The intensity of these distant virtual conversations makes Clair forget Joe and obsessively became emotionally virtually engaged with Chris disregarding the fact she was an impostor and aware that a real relationship was impossible. She used photos of a pretty young women in the Internet and chose a brunette who looks like Katia. With multiple excuses Clair refuses Chris constant requests to meet the fake Claire, who is aware of the disappointment Chris will have meeting the real Clair.
The story shows the sordid world of virtual distant human connections, like those described by Camille Laurens, the author. For many, in today’s world, ”far is near and near is far.” It is relatively common to find in restaurants couples obsessively looking at their phones, reading what others are doing far away, ignoring his or her companion and the real world that surround them.
The book give relevant descriptions about the fake personalities that populate the social media sites and the illusion they create. In Clair own words, ”for people like me, the Internet is the shipwreck as well as the life raft: you drown in the tracking game, in the expectation, you can’t grieve for a relationship, however dead it may be, and at the same time you’re hovering above it in a virtual world, clinging to fake information”
It is so common and prevalent situations like those describe in the novel that there are paying sites or Apps that help to profesionaly create these kind of Avatars or invented virtual phantoms.
To enrich the vivid description of the distortions and outright lies the social media facilities, the author uses the failed and abusive relationship with Joe and the fake relation with Chris produced by Clair virtual Facebook Frankenstein, the author quotes examples of the dreadful conditions and abuses woman have to endure in the hands of predators males like Joe, who knows how to exploit the weaknesses of recently divorced victims.
According to the numbers released by Facebook, various serious studies estimate that, ”as many as 270 million of the platform’s 2.1-billion-strong user base could be fraudulent or duplicated — a population verging on the size of the United States.” (https://mashable.com/2017/11/02/facebook-phony-accounts-admission/)
As an added value to the story, the conversations are full of relevant examples of classic books and authors Clair quotes in her discussions about abusive relationships. In the final note Camille Laurens acknowledges that the “novel contains reminiscences or quotations (some of them unfaithful) from A. Artaud, H. Melville, L. Aragon, J-F. Lyotard, N. Arcan, J. Racine, D. Winnicott, J. Didion, G. Flaubert, P. Lejeune, O. Steiner, J. Joyce, W. Shakespeare, J. Renard, M. Duras, P. Quignard, J. Lacan, W. B. Yeats, H. de Balzac, H. Cixous, R. M. Rilke, L-F. Céline, R. Juarroz, M. Leiris.”
Who You Think I Am by Camille Laurens is undoubtedly a book that addresses the disturbing adverse effects of social media, amplifying the potential of abusive emotional relationships and other forms of suffering and abuse women continues to endure.