Allie Rowbottom is curled up on a Chesterfield-style sofa with Butter and Jammy, her two French bulldogs, curled up at her feet.
“My husband and I are in New York for book stuff right now, and they come with us wherever we go,” she says, Zooming in from a family member’s home in the city.
There’s a regal-looking oil painting hanging up in the background and Rowbottom’s wearing a cosy NBA hoodie, taking a much-needed slow day from relentlessly promoting her debut novel.
Usually, the author is based in Los Angeles, where her book, Aesthetica, is set. It follows Anna Wrey, an influencer operating at the height of peak, 2017-era Instagram. She indulges in cosmetic surgery as a means of increasing her reach and, misguidedly, making sense of who she is.
Fifteen years later, Anna decides to undergo another, more dangerous surgery, “aesthetica”, which promises to reverse every procedure she’s ever had done. In this universe, Instagram has reached its logical conclusion as a platform rife with hollowness, a no man’s land of holier than thou posts and empty personalities (sound familiar?). Now, Anna needs to reckon with herself sans surgeon-sculpted cheekbones, when notions of “self” are more fraught than ever.
Since its release last month, Aesthetica has become the internet’s buzzy novel of choice – Caroline Calloway, the Insta-celeb to rule them all, called it “the best novel about influencers I’ve ever read” – and Rowbottom’s gotten pretty swept up in the whirlwind.
“It’s so hard to appreciate what’s going on when you’re in the middle of it,” she says. “I think this is common, but I was feeling a little unmoored by all the press and unsure what to do next. The best remedy was going to some bookstores and interacting with the people there. I really fought for Aesthetica from the beginning – it was a hard sell every step of the way. To see people now engaging with it is so thrilling.”
While writing Aesthetica, Rowbottom experimented with her own Instagram by trying to grow her following and switching up how she self-presented on the platform. Although she’s well aware her book wrestles with grim themes, Rowbottom insists it isn’t necessarily a rallying cry against social media as a whole.
“My approach to Instagram is pretty neutral,” she continues. “It’s more our approach to it that’s challenging. The internet in general tends to foment hate, but maybe that’s just human nature that we’re seeing reflected back to us.”
If Aesthetica were made into a movie or TV show (fingers crossed), who would play Anna? “Chloe Cherry,” Rowbottom replies. Naturally.
It’s all well and good writing a novel all about the internet, but what do Rowbottom’s own online habits look like? Keep scrolling to find out, and click here to buy a copy.
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