When I pulled Search History out of the package kindly sent to me by Allen & Unwin, the first thing I noticed was the tagline: “Rebecca meets Fleabag“. That was all I needed to know about this novel by Melbourne writer Amy Taylor – reel me in, I’m hooked!
As the blurb promised, Search History is “a sharply funny debut novel about identity, obsession, and desire in the internet age”. But, unlike most books about relationships in tHe DiGiTaL eRa, this one actually rings true – in the way the characters think and behave, and the way their use of technology shapes their perceptions.
The main character, Ana, moves from Perth to Melbourne shortly before Search History begins. She’s fresh off the back of a bad break-up, and her efforts to move on with dating apps have been disappointing (to put it mildly – ‘traumatic’ might be more accurate). But when she bumps into a good-looking stranger at after-work drinks, she thinks she might’ve found a way out of the messy single life.
Then, she makes the terminal mistake of so many new relationships in this century: she Googles her new boyfriend, and discovers something about his past she wishes she hadn’t. “My willpower had long ago been weakened against the dopamine release of online search and reward,” she says, perceptively, on page 154.
It turns out his ex-girlfriend, Emily, died in a tragic accident – but her digital footprint remains. Ana becomes obsessed with examining every inch of Emily’s social media accounts, looking for clues as to what her life with the man they both love(d) was like. Search History rises and falls according to Ana’s discoveries, about Emily and about herself.
My need for information about Emily seemed to reveal that I’d been playing a character all along: nonchalant Ana, who was so self-assured she never felt compelled to compare herself to an ex-girlfriend.Search history (page 176)
I have no doubt there will be readers and reviewers out there who criticise Search History on the basis that Ana gets in her own way so damn much. But, for me, that’s what made it brilliant and relatable. Ana is both self-destructive and self-aware. She knows what she’s doing is bad for her relationship and her mental health, but she just can’t help herself. Let those who have never accidentally deep-liked a new love interest’s Instagram post cast the first stone, as far as I’m concerned!
Buy Search History on Booktopia. (affiliate link)
May 15, 2023 at 9:57 PM
Oooh, this sounds very fun indeed! I recently read an advice column letter where the LW’s daughter-in-law was researching HER in this way — she, the LW, had been in a terrible car crash as a teenager, and her boyfriend at the time died and she lost the baby she was pregnant with. And now her daughter-in-law is like researching this in a very intrusive way, asking all her friends about it, etc. A fun premise for a book, but horrifying in real life!
May 23, 2023 at 8:42 PM
Gahhhh that is TERRIFYING! I hope the letter writer got to set some firm boundaries about it, what a terrible way to treat someone else’s traumatic event.