Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Girl Parts - John M. Cusick

Blurb:What happens when a robot designed to be a boy’s ideal “companion” develops a will of her own? A compulsively readable novel from a new talent.

David and Charlie are opposites. David has a million friends, online and off. Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely. But neither feels close to anybody. When David’s parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat his “dissociative disorder,” he can’t get enough of luscious redheaded Rose — and he can’t get it soon. Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock. Parted from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up, knowing Rose isn’t real. With Charlie’s help, the ideal “companion” is about to become her own best friend. In a stunning and hilarious debut, John Cusick takes rollicking aim at internet culture and our craving for meaningful connection in an uberconnected world.

Review: This book was recommended to me on goodreads but I had to wait a whole year before my exams finished and I could get my hands on a copy. Not that I had spent the whole year pining after the book, but I was quite pleased with myself when I spotted it in the library. Someone ( I can’t remember who ) quoted on the back of the book said that it was an addictive read , and it was, I read the whole book in two sittings , only putting it down to go to sleep.

The world created in the book is very much like our own, but with a few slight differences, the technology. The book seems to be set a few years in the future,  David’s father seems to be some sort of tech mogul, he has a computer with multiple monitors that use what he is browsing to generate related content. The students at St. Seb’s  do all their coursework online at there own pace, and of course the Companion robots. The technology is a central theme in this book, and most of the issues the book deals with are rooted in our technological advancement.
David and Charlie, two of our three main characters act as foils for each other. david is a spoiled rich kid with doting parents and a huge group of friends online and off. David is a player, a jerk and completely self centered. He displays the typical ‘I’m indestructible and the world revolves around me’  teenage mentality we see so much in the media, but thankfully Cusick does develop his character quite skillfully and he becomes less of a jerkface.  Charlie on the other hand , is David’s antithesis. He is a quiet , self-contained loner who admits that he is only happy when he is alone. He has no friends, and lives completely off the grid. It seems that Charlie’s lack of friends is a product of his absence from the online community, Cusick’s commentary that we cannot be social unless we are social online.

The psychiatric professional, Dr something, ( I can’t remember his name , sorry) tells both David and Charlie that they are suffering from ‘disassociation’, a kind of social apathy, a prescribes a Companion bot. This diagnosis rings somewhat true, but Cusick’s commentary seems to indicate that this social apathy isn’t as bad as the media and the adults around us would have us believe. Telling society that teenagers today suffer from ‘disassociation’ may just be another way of condemning youths. Ever since the advent of teenagers adults have been discussing how they are out of control and not behaving normally, and maybe ‘ disassociation’ is just another manifestation of this mentality. Charlie and David do seem to have social problems, but are they as bad a those around them may think?

Circling back to the ‘Companion’, this robot is the essential piece of this story. The Companions are perfect replicas of the perfect teenage girl, designed to treat teenage boys for their disassociation. The Companions seem to represent the inherent sexism in this society. There are only girl Companions , no guys ( and the boys are all given girl companions, totally disregarding the fact some of them might be gay). While David and Charlie are obviously flawed , Rose, David’s Companion, is the perfect girl. She has the perfect body and the perfect submissive personality. She has been programmed so that her end goal is David, the only thing worth doing is making David happy, he is the only reason for living. Rose has a great line ( that I can’t quote because i don’t have the book with me) that goes something like ‘ boys can do whatever they want but girls just have to sit quietly and look pretty’ . This resonated with me,and after reading Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’, reminded me that we still have a long way to go with feminism.
My favorite character in the book was probably Rebecca, not because she was a fantastic person, but because she was a real person. I won’t give you any spoilers but you should look out for her.
The book is told from multiple perspectives, which can be really interesting , especially when Cusick describes Charlie’s interaction with Rebecca, as we see how horribly they misunderstand each other.

Rose’s character is also very interesting, primarily because she is a robot, but as the book progresses you forget , and when Cusick reminds you that she is a robot you just can’t deal with it. Rose may be a robot, but she feels the full spectrum of human emotion , something that David can’t understand.
This book was an excellent, strangely insightful read which I would thoroughly recommend, and I hope I have spoiled anything for you.
Rating : 3.5 Stars

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