Note to Self by Alina Simone

7th Aug 2013

Note to Self
Born in Kharkov, Alina Simone is a singer who resides in Brooklyn. In 2011, Faber and Faber published her collection of autobiographical essays You Must Go and Win which discuss her cross-cultural upbringing and her career in indie-rock. Note to Self is her début novel.

When Alina Simone’s protagonist Anna Krestler is fired from her job, her internet obsession takes full hold. At the mercy of every mouse-click, Anna’s unfocused search for meaning is conducted entirely online until she clicks on an advert which she believes could change her life.

The man responsible for the advert is Taj, a filmmaker about to make big impact on Anna. So much of an impact that she actually forgets to check her email.

Alina Simone’s writing style is fresh, sharp and very funny. This is a satirical case study of our obsession with the internet and the strange, dysfunctional relationship so many of us have with our inboxes.The assessment of our modern condition is key to the novel, but it feels as though Simone’s central thematic concern is the journey of self-discovery.

We follow Simone’s protagonist through a process which allows her to redress the imbalance in her life, and Anna is often endearing. However, she’s also a bit too much like Bridget Jones in edgier shoes.

Throughout the novel, she is characterised by the very things she is lacking. She is everything women apparently shouldn’t be – a thirty-something, over-weight, jobless, husband-less, baby-less mess – and while these characterisation choices are perfectly valid, it doesn’t feel like Anna escapes these social pressures enough to find a true voice. Too often, she feels like a victim.

Part of the reason for this is Anna’s obsession with Taj. It’s hard to find Taj enigmatic or inspiring and so it’s confusing as to why Anna is so infatuated, even if she does have low self-esteem.

Her approach to him is so frequently guileless that she develops a girl-woman type status and leaves you wanting to shout ‘Hey Anna! He’s behind you!’

Having said this, Alina Simone does give her male protagonist some great dialogue which critically evaluates graphic sex on screen:

“You’re getting sex packaged as art, so you can go to a theatre and sit there nicely with your friends feeling smart, and afterward you can go somewhere and talk about fucking without feeling like you’re exploiting anyone, because it’s art.”

Simone handles the latter part of the novel very well, showing her obvious command of the pace of the narrative, and a strong ability to maintain tension.

Perhaps my favourite part of the novel is Simone’s clever study of online comment forums at the denouement, which brilliantly depicts our desire to review the behaviour of others.

In many ways, this is a satisfying and relaxing read which is accessible to a broad audience. However, most striking is the potential in Simone’s writing. She has a unique style of expression and perspective; definitely one to look out for.

Note to Self by Alina Simone was published by Fourth Estate on 6th June 2013 and is available in paperback now.