While most of us would acknowledge that we don’t share our true selves with the people around us, even the ones we love the most, are we more inclined to share our true thoughts with strangers? What about if we knew those strangers might come back to haunt us?
When artist Julian Jessop pours out his heart in a notebook and leaves it in a cafe for someone else to find, ideally also sharing their own story and then passing it on, he didn’t expect that the book, and the readers, would find its way back to him and the cafe. In its travels the green notebook collects Monica, the anal retentive cafe owner; Hazard, a… well, a bro-dude douchbag; then Riley, an Australian landscaper; on to Alice, a Mommy instagrammer pretending to have a perfect life; and then Lizzy, the busybody who brings the happy collection of friends, and the lies within their “truths”, crashing down.
The idea of the notebook bringing disparate people together to form a new community is romantic and optimistic. Moreso the idea that this community would help each character find their true self. Even if life did work that way, and even with the intentional imperfect endings that Pooley assigns some characters, I’m a bit too cynical for The Authenticity Project to seem authentic to me.
Pooley does hustle to make her characters unique and interesting, however, and each has a backstory more intriguing than the actual plot she involves them in. The notebook creator, Julian, for instance, is an artist who has fallen on hard times but who spent his heyday in the London punk scene. Alice hides her messy and imperfect life and crumbling marriage behind perfectly cropped and edited Instagram posts.
I think that ultimately, the decision to make the story more of a romantic comedy (half of Goodreads seems to want it made into a film) was where it lost me. I know this works for most readers but it felt… unambitious by the end. A cute story and a quick, fun read, but slightly fluffier than I had hoped.