Meatspace is a novel for the digital age. Protagonist Kitab Balasubramanyam is a social media addict, unable to make his way through even the most mundane of moments without considering whether or not he should live tweet it. He’s a writer, but one so distracted by who has and hasn’t liked his Facebook posts, that he has barely begun his second novel. He even lost a lover to his addiction. When his namesake tries to add him on Facebook and he ignores it, we see his digital life start to interact with his real one. Or, as he calls it, his ‘meatspace.’
Kitab 2, as he comes to be known, is equally as dependent on the digital world. A repressed and virginal gamer who wishes to escape his father, he leaves India for England largely to bond with the namesake he’s found online. He expects them to be friends because social media has suggested that they should be. When this doesn’t work out as he planned we see him attempt, in several ways, to steal the original Kitab’s identity. This leads to a farcical and extremely funny game of cat and mouse which drags the reader through sex parties, Twitter scandals, fights, trips to the hospital, and much more.
Alongside the main plot, we have the story of Kitab’s brother Aziz. This is told in the format of a blog, as Aziz finds his own doppelganger online, gets a tattoo that matches his, and heads off to New York to meet him. Although this section is often amusing, its true relevance doesn’t really become clear until the novel’s climax. Sadly, it sometimes seems like a disappointing distraction because of this.
At the heart of Meatspace there is a troubling and cautionary tale hiding underneath the humour. As Kitab tells us ‘the internet is both transient and eternal and there’s nothing you can hide from it once it goes online.’ In the age of sexting, Snapchat, and social media in general, this is an important warning. People don’t think about their digital footprint when they post that funny and embarrassing picture. They don’t consider their safety when they check in at their current location. Meatspace highlights all of this without shoving it down your throat in a preachy manner, and as a whole the novel is much more successful in summing up the digital age than Tao Lin’s Taipei, a novel with similar themes and goals.
Any Cop?: There are things that work wonderfully in this apt and timely novel. At times, it’s hilarious. The characters, despite the somewhat far-fetched situations they find themselves in, are believable representations of today’s click happy generation. And Kitab is like so many writers out there at the moment, mixing their art with their Twitter feed in a wholly cringe worthy manner. On the other hand though, despite the meaning of Aziz’s blog in the bigger picture, it does distract more than it adds. And the ending is a little too twist-heavy, a little too contrived. All-in-all, though, Meatspace does what it intends to. It creates an adroit satire of today’s society, and it makes the reader laugh a lot along the way.