Monday, 22 May 2023



I’ve got a list of books that isn’t so much To Be Read as At-Some-Point-In-My-Life-This-Looked-Terribly-Interesting-And-I’ll-Make-A-Note-Of-It-And-Read-It-One-Day. Many of these never get read and drift to the oblivion of the depths of the list. The Savage Girl by Alex Shakar is one that I rescued just before it floated off into obscurity. I’d noted it about ten years ago, when the book was already ten years old.

Here’s the review I published. I wasn’t too savage, but it wasn’t an easy book to read:


The Savage Girl


Without giving away too much, the subject of cryogenics features in “The Savage Girl”, and I felt rather as if I’d defrosted something frozen in time, or opened a time capsule as I read this novel. It was written at the turn of the 21st century, certainly pre-social media and Web 2.0 which makes it oddly quaint in places. 


The novel is a satire on marketing, trend-forecasting and the consumer society. Not the sort of book I normally read for leisure, but I’ve worked in advertising and marketing more years than I care to mention, so thought I’d give it a go.


I found the novel quite difficult to get into. Because of its age, a lot of what may have seemed futuristic at the time of writing seems a bit - so what, or what the? - today. One character sits looking at an array of giant computer screens, pulling out patterns. Well, today we have ChatGPT and tomorrow who knows? The characters are by-and-large grotesques - not human enough for you to care about any of them, yet not outrageous enough to be amusing. Sometimes, it all seemed a bit pretentious and just too clever for its own good.


Having said that, there were some excellent ideas along the way. The story forsees lots of stuff going on today - the metaverse and virtualism, shifting truths and echo chamber bubbles. I did cringe at some of the passages evoking those ghastly bullsh*tty brainstormings and insight sessions that I’ve participated in. And the concept of “Paradessence” - paradoxical essence or “two opposing desires that a product satisfies simultaneously” (such as stimulation and relaxation) - is spot on. “The job of a marketer is to cultivate this schismatic core, this broken soul, at the center of every product.”


The question of whether we are heading for the “Light Age” - the optimistic view - or the “Lite Age” was also interesting once I finally got the distinction.


All-in-all, thought-provoking in places, but wish I’d read this novel when it (and I) were 20 years younger.  


Theres a long lecture by one of the obnoxious characters in the book, which examines Ernest Dichters The Strategy of Desire, Soviet propaganda and American marketing, and the development of irony and now - post-irony. All interesting ideas, which are commented on in this review and interview with the author. 

The “Paradessence” idea is one I’ve banged on about frequently in this blog - and I liked the examples in the book:

Coffee - stimulation and relaxation

Air travel - sanistised adventure, exoticism and familiarity

Ice cream - eroticism and innocence

And while one character refers to this as “a schismatic core/broken soul”, his less cynical colleague expresses it as the “magic” - the sneakers that enable you not just to grip the earth and stay grounded, but to soar into the air and your dreams, too.

I wonder how much money has been made over the years from touting the paradox-resolution brand essence idea around, dressed up with a clever-clogs name and a fancy model?  

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