Search History blurs the lines between real life and life online.
There’s no easing into the novel, with a confronting first chapter throwing the reader directly into the dangers of online dating. Amy Taylor’s storytelling is an easy page turner and a promising first novel for a debut author.
Fresh from a break-up, Ana has moved to Melbourne, escaping her hometown of Perth to start a new life, leaving behind all the baggage of her last relationship.
Settling into a dreary job in a city with mostly cold and dreary weather, Ana turns to the plethora of dating apps to keep her life upbeat. This new life heats up with a chance encounter with Evan when they are both out for Friday night after-work drinks with their respective co-workers. To match with someone in real life is a welcome surprise, and there is a mystery to it all that Ana wants to explore.
With everything about everyone’s life online these days, it doesn’t take Ana long to discover Evan’s past, and the fact that his most recent ex, Emily, died in a hit-and-run.
Evan refuses to talk about Emily, leaving Ana to dive into the dark depths of the internet to find answers about Evan and Emily’s life together. Whenever she meets someone new in Evan’s circle, Ana scavenges their online profiles to uncover more.
As the relationship between Evan and Ana develops, Ana’s obsession with Emily also continues to grow. She desperately seeks answers, turning up at the yoga studio where Emily used to work, and even booking a haircut with Emily’s twin brother who works at a salon in Brunswick. It feels as if we find out more about Ana’s relationship with Emily in the digital world than we ever do about her real life relationship with Evan.
Search History is fixated on the obsessive thoughts of a young woman who is in the love haze of a new relationship. The overthinking of a young mind is completely spot on in this novel, to the point where it is slightly annoying and frustrating for the reader who, like a friend, just wants to tell Ana to stop obsessing, and hand her Zoë Foster Blake and Hamish Blake’s self-help novel, Textbook Romance.
Ana has an air of self-centredness, with the emotional baggage from her parents’ divorce and upbringing leaving her flawed and insecure. But there are instances when we see her empathetic towards other women – when she bakes a cake for her Greek neighbour, or offers dating advice to her colleague. These moments of connection shine importance on the female characters.
Taylor writes all of her women, from various walks of life, in full colour, whereas the men fade into the background, with the only exception being Ana’s father, who seems to be living his best life in Bali.
There are glimpses of danger similar to those in the first chapter – when Ana sees Emily’s best friend Nadia at the yoga studio, a confrontation with a drunk couple out the front of a New Year’s Eve party and mentioning Emily’s name to her twin brother in the salon without him bringing her up first – but tension in these moments dissipates quickly, with opportunities to escalate the story missed, leaving the mystery unresolved. Some twists and revelations at the end of the novel come a little too late to redeem it.
An explosive beginning that, like many relationships in younger years, fizzles out, Search History is a relatable read for those who have grown up and continue to live online.
Search History, Amy Taylor
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Pages: 320 pp
Publication date: 2 May 2023