The Closer I Get by Paul Burston #BookReview #BlogTour

A compulsive, disturbingly relevant, twisty and powerful psychological, social-media thriller from the bestselling author of The Black Path.

Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone. Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has. When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing. But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on. A compulsive, disturbingly relevant, twisty and powerful psychological thriller, The Closer I Get is also a searing commentary on the fragility and insincerity of online relationships, and the danger that can lurk just one ‘like’ away…

I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for The Closer I Get today. Many thanks to Paul Burston, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel. 

When Tom Hunter meets Evie at a book signing he describes her as a 'kindred spirit' but if those words conjure up images of Matthew Cuthbert or Diana Barry, think again. Evie becomes increasingly obsessed with Tom and the results are more reminiscent of Annie Wilkes in Misery than Anne of Green Gables.
The book opens with a letter from Evie to Tom where she describes their first meeting and the thrill she felt when he finally followed her back on Twitter. So far, so innocent, most of us on social media will admit to feeling a little buzz when somebody we admire follows us back. However, as Evie's letter continues, there's a clear indication that her interest in him became something more than just enjoying his work, to the point where they are now facing each other in court. The following chapter is written in the third person from Tom's perspective and the novel continues to switch between Evie's words and Tom's experiences throughout.
There are many scenes where it's impossible not to feel sympathy for Tom, who is obviously made to feel very vulnerable by the harassment he endures. He feels guilty making a complaint to the police, comparing his experiences to 'a man who'd been queer-bashed or a woman whose husband was using her as a punch bag' but as he describes her emails, blogs, comments on Amazon and on various forums, it's not difficult to understand how exhausting and frightening it would be to have your entire online life affected in such an extreme, relentless manner. Authors are frequently expected to have an online presence these days and often interact with their readers but here Evie crosses a line and believes there is something more to their relationship. It's a terrifying reminder of how potentially risky social media can be.
However, as the book progresses, it transpires that the old adage about two sides to every story is true as it seems that Tom isn't being entirely honest and has his own secrets to hide. This is understandable to a point as he is desperate to be free of his stalker and worried that whole truth will count against him in court. Nevertheless, he isn't quite as innocent as he wants to believe himself to be and is definitely guilty of putting his own needs before others despite the hurt it causes them. His off-hand dismissal of a one-night stand and his one-sided friendship with Emma are both examples of this and he is perhaps more responsible for the situation with Evie than he wants anybody to realise. In the meantime, although Evie is clearly a very damaged woman, whose actions are really chilling at times, it's impossible not to feel for her at times, particularly when we learn more about her past. She's a fascinating character; there's little doubt that she has the ability to be very dangerous and yet I couldn't help but think that she deserved better from life.
One of my favourite characters in the novel is Colin, with whom Tom strikes up a friendship when he stays in Hastings for a while. Perhaps we all allow ourselves to forget that social media allows us to portray different sides to ourselves - some people do so for sinister reasons, for others it's more benign and they just want to be liked but some are forced to hide who they really are for their own safety. Colin may be older but his heartbreaking story reveals that this is something he understands only too well, having been forced to conceal who he really was in real life for many years due to the homophobic laws and attitudes of the time. 
The Closer I Get is not only is it a first-rate psychological thriller, it is also fiction that made me think and to consider the impact of social media on our identities, how we present ourselves to others and the risks we are all seemingly prepared to take in our online lives. Paul Burston's book is unsettling, shocking and only too believable - I loved it.

The Closer I Get is published by Orenda Books. Purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Paul Burston is the author of five novels and the editor of two short story collections. His most recent novel ‘The Black Path’, was longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2016 and was a bestseller at WH Smith. His first novel, ‘Shameless’, was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award. His third novel, ‘Lovers & Losers’ was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award. His fourth, ‘The Gay Divorcee’, was optioned for television. He was a founding editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times. In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world”. He is the founder and host of London’s award-winning LGBT+ literary salon Polari and founder and chair of The Polari First Book Prize for new writing.
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