Louise is on the treadmill of busyness that all single parents are forced to negotiate every day. Her son is great, her ex operates at the standard level of selfish and annoying, her fledgling business is going well and in the between-times Louise checks in and tries to keep up with everyone else’s frantic lives via Facebook. The bright shiny lives of Louise’s friends, ex colleagues and acquaintances are cyber surreal to her and the friends that were once vitally important in the school years have now become just posts on her phone screen.
FRIEND REQUEST is not a social media crime novel as expected; the platform is used instead here to spark off a chain of events. Thematically the story does not labour over the highlight reel that is social media but it is importantly touched upon, tying it neatly back into the past before Facebook etc when many of the same societal pressures existed for young people, albeit in a less technologically advanced age. Different generations facing the same age old concerns. Children being horrific to other children. The feeling of being completely alone as a teenager even though you are typically surrounded by many people on any given day of your school dictated life.
Louise’s slow disintegration is written with care, and it is the increasing of Louise second guessing herself that rachets up the tension. Is Louise actually being stalked, is she over thinking, is there real danger to Louise’s own life and that of her son now as a result of what she participated in as a child. As a reader we’re never entirely sure but there is never any doubt that Louise is fearful and keen to find out the answers to all the questions she should have asked long ago.
Laura Marshall’s debut novel reminds us why most of us move on and far beyond what we were in high school. Remove the rose-coloured glasses, and the “good old days” actually probably were anything but. The adults in this novel are being forced to remember what they were, and its uncomfortable for them to be reminded. This is a cleverly written ‘slow draw’ mystery of dread and old baggage. It will resonate with those who have had to pull back from toxic friends, online or otherwise, and with those who wish they could blank out the mistakes they have made in the past.