book review: Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

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SOCIAL CREATURE by Tara Isabella Burton
★★★★☆
Doubleday, June 5, 2018

Social Creature is like The Secret History‘s beach-read cousin. It follows the story of Louise, a down on her luck aspiring writer in New York City who meets the rich and glamorous Lavinia, and the two form a sort of dysfunctional, obsessive friendship which is barreling toward tragedy, as we’re told from the onset that Lavinia is going to end up dead.

I don’t think I’ve ever described a book as ‘intoxicating’ before (and in fact I tend to roll my eyes at that descriptor), but that’s the word I keep coming back to with Social Creature. This book is intoxicating. Just like Louise, the reader is pulled into the glitz and glamour of Lavinia’s carefree socialite lifestyle, ignoring the glaring warning signs about the unhealthy and obsessive road she’s going down. With all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, this is a story that ends terribly for absolutely everyone involved. But it’s addicting and utterly impossible to look away.

Social Creature doesn’t have the same flawless prose or pervasive intellectualism as The Secret History, so maybe its vaguely pretentious tone is unearned, but it does have all the unlikable characters, and the same cautionary tale against indulging too heavily in the fairytale of living an impossibly elite lifestyle.

On the surface Social Creature is a fun thriller and a rather addictive beachy read, but underneath it’s rather bleak and sad and tragic. I think what haunts me the most about this book is how much I related to Louise at the beginning of it, and how harrowing it was to watch everything spiral out of control for her. This book is like a train wreck that you can’t look away from, but for whatever reason, that’s my favorite kind of story.

Thank you to Doubleday, First to Read, and Tara Isabella Burton for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

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23 thoughts on “book review: Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

    • That’s why I requested it in the first place, I saw something about dysfunctional friendships in the blurb and was like ‘sign me up.’ You haven’t read The Secret History, have you? I’d highly highly highly recommend it, it takes compellingly awful characters to an extreme I didn’t know was possible. In a good way.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m really intrigued by your The Secret History comparison. I did try to read that one in the summer, and even though I ended up loving it, it did seem a little too dense for outdoor soaking-up-the-sun reading. I might have to pick up Social Creature this summer and see if it fares better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Social Creature would be PERFECT for that situation. It’s not half as dense as The Secret History, but it’s similar in that it shows the dark side of elite academia (though the main characters aren’t students, they go to a lot of parties with Yale alums and everyone at these parties is awful). But it’s the kind of thing you can speed through in an afternoon on the beach where The Secret History is… not quite that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I got this on my netgalley list and i’m think i’ll read it this month. I dunno why i’m so drawn to stories about toxic/disfunctional friendships, haha.
    Haven’t read the secret history, i couldn’t really get into it…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same here, dysfunctional friendship stories are my favorite kind. The Secret History was pretty much tailor-made for me – it’s set where I live and I have a huge interest in Greek classics so I was sucked in immediately. But I definitely understand where it’s not for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure either tbh… my gut feeling is that you wouldn’t like it, but I know we both enjoy unlikable female protagonists, and Louise is pretty terrible, so it’s definitely got that going for it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well, ‘flawless’ was admittedly hyperbolic but I do think Tartt’s prose is quite accomplished and I wouldn’t consider Social Creature as ‘literary’ – but I did thoroughly enjoy them both! Definitely very different, I just kept noticing superficial similarities that made me want to mention it.

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