Nikesh Shukla’s new novel Meatspace, is out in the U.S. on September 15, from Harper Collins, and according to The Guardian, “Like Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, this novel captures a cultural moment.” Kitab Balasubramanyam has had a rough few months. His girlfriend left him. He got fired from his job for writing a novel on company time, but the novel didn’t sell and now he’s burning through his mom’s life insurance money. Kitab is reduced to spending all of his time with his brother and roommate Aziz, coming up with ideas for novelty Tumblrs and composing amusing tweets. But now even Aziz has left him, traveling to America to find his online doppelganger. So what happens when Kitab’s only internet namesake turns up on his doorstep and insists that they are meant to be friends?
This novel questions who we are when we’re not in cyberspace but in “meatspace,” the real world where people actually talk to each other in the flesh. Intrigued by the book cover? Find out more on Friday Book Design Blog. Shared by permission, the excerpt below is from the start of the book.
* * *
Which alcoholic drink has the most calories? – Google
Hayley Bankcroft – Facebook
Olivia Munn – YouTube
Olivia Munn nude – Google
 – Twitter
email@example.com [4 new]
The first and last thing I do everyday is see what strangers are saying about me.
I pull the laptop closer from the other side of the bed and press refresh on my inboxes. I have a Google calendar alert that tells me I have no events scheduled today, an assortment of Twitter and Facebook notifications, alerting me to 7 new followers, a favourite of a tweet thanking someone for liking my book, an invite to an event I’ll never go to, spam from Play and Guardian Jobs. Hayley Bankcroft has sent me a direct message about an event we’re both doing next week. Amazon recommends I buy the book I wrote. There’s a rejection email from an agency I’d applied to do some freelance marketing copy for. I didn’t want the job, but now I haven’t got it I feel annoyed and hurt. I think about tweeting ‘will write copy for food’ but decide against it.
There’s an email from my dad. He doesn’t usually send me emails; he prefers text messages. It’s a forwarded message from a woman on a dating website. In it she’s written ‘Would love to meet your son and be his new mummy’. In bold at the top, Dad has written ‘Kitab-san, Wen u free?!!!!’ I ignore it. I never want to meet one of his girlfriends. Ever.
The only other 2 messages from actual humans are a friend request from the one other person with my name on Facebook, which I ignore when I see the next one is from Rach: an email letting people know her new address. I wonder why she wants me to have this information. Am I supposed to think, ‘Oh, she’s moved out of her parents’ house, which even being in Zone 6 and involving interacting with her racist brother and the cat that hated me and her dad’s collection of plaid shirts with effervescent sweat patches was still preferable to living here with me’? Or, more realistically, ‘Why is she moving out of her parents’ house now, 6 months after dumping me, 6 months after moving out, 6 months after she told me she couldn’t bear the way I lived any longer and that I was draining her enthusiasm for life’? Is that what I’m supposed to think?
She’s moving to North London, where she lived when we first met. I used to like meeting her at her flat. It overlooked a park and had a big kitchen I would sit in while she made coffee with the landlord’s Gaggia filter coffee machine. There was a disused railway line we’d take walks down. I haven’t been there in years.
That flat was amazing. We cooked all the time, she didn’t own a television, just stacks of books, a balcony where she grew tomatoes and a posh coffee machine. It was a middle-class idyll. None of the furniture pointed at an entertainment source. We were those people. For the life of me, I can’t work out why we chose to move her to my place instead of me to hers.
She was clinical in collecting all of her things when it ended. The only trace of her was a t-shirt of mine she took ownership of while we were together but I got full custody of in the break-up and the chutneys she left in the fridge. I notice them every time I open the fridge.
I hate chutneys. They’re a painfully white condiment, a colonial response to the spicy Indian pickle. I keep meaning to throw them away. When she’d first moved out, I spent a drunken night spooning onion chutney into my mouth because that was the closest I could get to what she’d tasted like.
The related Google ad next to her email is for ‘house-warming gift ideas’. I click out of my emails and think of things to tweet. I’ve got nothing to say. I look at the account of this other Kitab.
I’ve known about his existence for a while now. Around 6 months ago, his Facebook profile had started showing up in my self-Googling. I was surprised at first. Another Kitab with my obscure surname. Another one. Another me. He kinda looked like me too. He had fair brown (what I call caramel, ex-girlfriends have called ‘dusty’) skin and the hairstyle I had in the 80s, swept up into a Patrick Swayze cowlick of quiff and oil. He had eyes like mine, almond-shaped and-coloured and he had my mouth. Full kissable lips. Or at least this is how I would describe myself on an internet dating profile — caramel-skinned, quiffed black hair, almond-coloured eyes and big full lips.
He wore a white turtleneck sweater, like a Bond villain. His location was listed as Bangalore, India and the avatar photo itself looked like a warped driving licence scanned on a low-resolution photocopier. I was immediately disappointed that my namesake was so Indian-looking.
The related Facebook ad on the search results page for Kitab Balasubramanyam is an identity theft-solving app. It’s 69p. I don’t buy it.
I wonder why he’s decided to add me.
I tweet: ‘Feet hurt. Too much bogling last night.
This is a lie. I was in bed by 10 last night. I had 4 beers on an empty stomach, felt pissed and irritated, shouted a lot in our front room about Rach and how I was better off without her and was put to bed by Aziz, who complained I was too drunk to take out on the town to find some trouble. He’d sighed, I was never up for getting in trouble now I was single.
I clear my throat. It stings like I’ve been singing too much.
The air in my room feels thick and musty. I try to remember the last time I left the flat. It hasn’t been often since Rach moved out. Except for the pub and for supplies. If it wasn’t for Aziz, I probably wouldn’t talk to anyone apart from online. I left the flat yesterday. It was to go to the pub. And the big shop. I did the big shop after the pub. It consisted of Budvars, bread, and frozen pizzas for emergencies. Now Rach isn’t here to fill the fridge with fresh sustainable organic food and chutneys, I’m taking full advantage.
I sleep with my quilt rolled and bunched up into the sausage of a human body. She’s my bedtime girlfriend now I’m newly single. I call her Quiltina.
* * *
Nikesh Shukla is a writer of fiction and television and host of the Subaltern podcast. His debut novel, Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. Meatspace is his second novel. Read The Aerogram’s interview with Shukla about food, grief and his novella The Time Machine.