Lion Attack! is a tender and exasperating quasi-memoir by a first-time writer. New to Melbourne, racked by self-consciousness and enabled by social media, Oliver seeks love and validation.
I’m twenty-five and I barely feel like an adult.
Something that scares me is feeling insignificant.
Those lines, like the book’s subtitle (I’m trying to be honest and I want you to know that), capture the banal disingenuousness that characterises Oliver Mol’s writing. He affects a style that is flat, naive, unauthorial, marked by spasms of confidingness and elaborate flights of Walter Mitty-esque fantasy with a digital twist. Picturing himself with a dog, a car and a girlfriend (in that order), he imagines taking a photo of the dog leaning wind-smacked from the car window and “when we upload it to Instagram it gets a million likes and also comments like ‘happiness’ ”.
By seeming not to be, Mol is funny and wise about social media and technology. “My iPhone vibrates because someone has liked my status, and it validates me.” “I want to love someone in a way that feels like we are each other’s favourite YouTube channels.” And he gently mocks the parasitic hook of branding: it’s never just “my phone” or “my laptop”; always “my iPhone”, “my MacBook”.
As for Mol’s oversharing, I suspect that it’s less personal than persona – the lovable, gangly twerp. TV series have been fashioned out of less. But, to the extent that Lion Attack! is (or draws on) memoir, I wish that someone had said to its author: Give it time. Live a little. Because, as a coming-of-age story, it falls short. The character arc flatlines, the wisdom gained is meagre.
At the heart of Lion Attack! is the quest for validation. Mol incessantly examines his motives for writing:
I also wanted people to read my book and tell me that they liked it. That they liked me.
I wanted to feel appreciated, to have a sense that what I was doing mattered. I wanted to feel loved. Maybe that seems selfish. Or fucked.
I don’t know.
Mol is both dupe and beneficiary of the premature validation that an online following can bring. Shaped by social media (it originated as a series of Facebook posts), Lion Attack! is, at best, journeyman writing, committed too soon – by publishers eager to snare a lucrative demographic – to a format with a price tag and a shelf life outlasting a click. FL
Scribe, 192pp, $27.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 9, 2015 as "Oliver Mol, Lion Attack!". Subscribe here.