Facebook Phantom by Suzanne Sangi is chilling precisely because it brings an element of other-worldliness into the world of social media, a world of happy self-promotion and blatant ego-massaging. Who says you only need decrepit houses and creaking doors to exude fear and menace?
The horror here does not come from unexplained noises in the dark but from technology and social media where all or us spend so much of our waking hours. The spookiness comes from the fact that our modern lives are not proof against the paranormal.
Sonali Machado, Li, for short, Neel Sarathy and Joanne Leslie are best friends living in Bangalore. They have just appeared for their Class X Board exams. While Neel and Joanne are interested in fashion trends and celebrity events, Sonali turns to Facebook to help her get through her surplus leisure time.
A message from Omi Daan, a name she has never heard of, even though he is her FB friend, wanting to know if she is happy takes her down a new path. Omi makes a claim on her friendship, adding that his little sister, long dead, was also called Sonali. Before long, Sonali, deeply and desperately in love with Omi, cuts herself off from Neel and Joanne, her closest friends, and family members, and seems to come alive only when she is chatting with Omi.
Attempting to know more about the guy who has captivated his best friend so completely, Neel is flummoxed to learn that Omi is nowhere to be found on FB. What begins as a harmless friendship on FB soon morphs into a deadly game of life and death as Sonali and Neel discover that Omi is not who he claims to be and that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Suzanne has done a great job of recreating the emotions that must run rampant in a young girl’s mind as she begins to respond to the overtures of a handsome stranger on Facebook. For the most part, the book is the first person account of Sonali. Midway through the account, the viewpoint changes and we begin to see the unfolding events through Neel’s eyes. The account gets a distinctly creepy tone and a supernatural element kicks in.
At first, I thought it was another of those novels about teenagers and their interests, including Facebook, shopping, movies etc. I was almost put off by the first chapter, and I wondered why I had agreed to read and review this book, when I was clearly the wrong target audience. The author and the characters are in their teens, and I’m, let’s be charitable, years removed from that age.
Once I got past the initial stage setting and character introductions, however, I could not stop reading. I felt compelled to read on. There was no doubt about who Omi was, but I was curious to know how it would all pan out.
The writing is fast paced and the quick movements of Omi in the dream sequences, though reminiscent of vampire romances in recent times, are nevertheless well depicted. Suzanne has shown a rare maturity in handling the horror scenes, but her youth shows endearingly at the portions which Sonali finds amusing, depicted by the ‘heehee’.
Being a teenager herself, Suzanne has the adolescent preoccupations down to a T. You get an interesting account of the types that populate Facebook. Subconsciously, Facebook Phantom sounds a warning note to teenagers who invest too much of their time and energy into online relationships and end up revealing personal and intimate details to a charming profile picture that may well hide a psychopath or a paedophile. That the note of warning has been sounded by a teenager herself is commendable.
Full marks to Duckbill for the presentation, an aspect of the book that most other publishers don’t put so much effort into. The bridge on the cover page is sufficiently forbidding and draws you in. Even on the PDF, it seemed as if the dream portions were in grey.
The headers for each of the chapter viewpoints are also attractive, complete with profile photo and header. A little fine-tooth-combed editing would have helped eliminate some proofing errors that were scattered through the PDF version of this book. I hope they weren’t there in the printed one.
I have some minor grouses though. There are some things that are mentioned in passing and then never referred to again. Sonali, we are told, writes poetry, but we never actually see any evidence of her writing. Nor does Sonali’s family come across as very involved in her life initially. Single mother Nita does a much better job of being present in Neel’s life.
The ending wasn’t quite satisfying. I wish Suzanne had given us a little more of the torment that caused Omi to kill himself. Also, a little more of the interactions in the Void and the motivations of the Void, and what actually happened to Omi’s little sister were little loose ends that weren’t completely tied up.
But the great thing is that in spite of her youth and inexperience (she apparently wrote this book after her Class X exams), this young author has managed to write a gripping tale about a very dangerous fascination.
Congratulations, Suzanne! I look forward to more creepy stuff from you.
The PDF version of this book was given to me by Duckbill for the purpose of reading and reviewing it.