I really enjoy books that look at this crazy social media soaked world we live in and Underbelly brilliantly combines the scary, dangerous realities (of the hidden side) of a life lived online with an engrossing story and complex characters you feel invested in.
Opening sentence: Four and a half years ago, somewhere upstairs in this hospital, they cut a baby out of me.
Anna Whitehouse is actually the fiction-writing pseudonym of husband and wife Matt Farquharson and Anna Whitehouse. To add another name to the mix, Anna Whitehouse is also known as Mother Pukka on social media. She’s a journalist, radio presenter and writer and has become an important voice in pushing forward the flexible working cause. I’m a huge fan of what she does, so was interested to see what this novel would be like.
Meet Lo and Dylan
Lo is mum of 4-year-old Scout, married to Johno and being an Instamum is her main source of income (#ads). She lives a financially comfortable life and although has good intentions, lets herself get swept up in the idea of her social presence – to the detriment of reality.
Lo meets fellow mum Dylan at the school gates – Dylan’s son Noah is in Scout’s class. It is circumstance rather than similarities that draw them together. Dylan is a single mum making ends meet and is an aspiring author. Her very personal book is about her abusive relationship – something that shadows her every day.
Through the story, both women develop their online presence and this is to be their downfall. Mainly due to the absolute savage nature of people, not only social media but on breakout bitching sites (scathingly called Influenza here) too. This is a very real, very dangerous situation that has real consequences beyond an anonymous, throwaway comment – something both Lo and Dylan soon discover.
Then I see it: ‘The Lo Down’. My heart tightens. I click through. Even though it’s about me, it feels invasive, like I’m peering through a gap in the fence into someone else’s garden.
Rooted in reality
I know from following Anna for a little while now on instagram that some of the experiences of Lo and Dylan are rooted in reality. This made reading Underbelly all the more interesting to me as you can feel the authenticity behind the characters. I really liked how Underbelly also looks at the complex, evolving and twisting nature of female friendship and the endless pressure of mum-guilt – relatable topics for so many.
This book was sharp, funny, warm and highly readable, while making some important points – about both people that choose to live any part of their personal life online (and accept money to do that) and the people that feel they have some sort of right to destroy the aforementioned people through gossip and lies.
There’s no doubt social media is an ingrained part of our lives now, so stories like Underbelly that explore this – in all its true murkiness – feel so relevant and necessary right now. An excellent summer read!
If you too like novels that hold a mirror up to social media, others with this theme are: People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd (randomly, this is also by a husband & wife duo writing under a pseudonym), The Echo Chamber by John Boyne and How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne.
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Get your copy of Underbelly here;
- Published by Orion 5th August 2021;
- 352 pages;
- My rating: