Caroline Calloway's memoir is available for preorder – for $65Wikimedia commons

This article contains reference to sexual assault 

Caroline Calloway, the instagram influencer turned memoirist, has designed her own tarot card. It looks like something Urban Outfitters would make into a tapestry. And a poster. And it would probably be a nice addition to a deck of performatively ironic novelty cards. It’s the overleaf of the epigraph to Lena Dunham (who Calloway admits she has never met) which opens her debut novel, Scammer.

A collection of 67 half-formed vignettes, the memoir is nothing if not wonderfully and painfully Caroline. At its best, it’s like listening to a friend who is drunker than you are, telling a story which diverts into tangents, but is fantastically compelling. At its worst, it’s overly self-referential, cloying, and at points, downright unpleasant.

Scammer is arresting. Remember when you were little, and would go to the big library with your mum and be overwhelmed by the number of spines on the shelves? And you would come home and devour a book in a day, eyes glued to the pages over dinner, straining to read the final few under the covers. Caroline’s book took us back to that feeling. Partly because some of her prose is delicious.

“Scammer is the “Gatsby of Cambridge” continuing to reach for her green light of relatability”

When at its most simple, Calloway’s voice is compelling, distinctive, and striking: “The night is three shades bluer than when you last saw it. My Dad killed himself in Falls Church, in the hoarder house where I grew up – in pain and in debt”. She can outline a scene and place you in it with a single, sweeping, sentence. “There are no seasons in Florida – just bright, white sunlight, and bleached-bone driftwood, and every day takes another bite out of my beauty”.

Partly, though, we read it in a day because her love for her art is so tangible it jumps off the page and ignites something in you. She has always leant into her Americanisms. She is excitable, and unashamedly so. She loves to write, and it makes you want to as well. At least it does if you were a notes app poetry girl at 13.

In the most Caroline Calloway way possible, though, everything is good until she ruins it. And this goes for her prose, too. Rolling Stone called Scammer “swiftian”. Taylor, not Jonathan. And they’re right, but at points her Folklore and Evermore becomes Midnights, and you end up with the prose equivalent of Antihero’s “sexy baby” line, or anything from Vigilante Shit. Basically, it’s millennial. She manages to construct a sentence with both “opalescent slit” and “labial tear and the fabric of spacetime”. It trails off after a repetition of “my gown, my gown”. We’re not sure the sentence makes sense, but if it’s one thing it’s cringy.

Much like the Instagram captions for which she became famous, Scammer is the “Gatsby of Cambridge” continuing to reach for her green light of relatability. She does this through continually exposing all of her rawest moments, and darkest thoughts. It takes bravery to divulge your lowest moments, and that’s in some ways commendable.

“In the most Caroline Calloway way possible, everything is good until she ruins it”

Where this actually succeeds is not in Calloway’s adolescent navel-gazing and ruminations on the nature of fame, but rather in her truly embarrassing moments. The passage in which she discusses applying to Yale four times before being banned from applying for life is hilariously petty without coming off as overly-bitter. Her confession that she would “live-laugh-love” inside of Yale’s “Disneyland knock-offs of Oxbridge castle” given the chance is self-referential and witty, without feeling too cloying. The same can’t be said for her descriptions of Cambridge, which she paints as a fantasy land populated solely by aristocrats in castles. Strangely, this doesn’t hit quite the same when reading it in your leaky new-build room in college.

These instances are at their least palatable when Calloway is talking about Natalie Beach, her ex-friend. If Beach’s 2019 Cut article read as one form of a vaguely homoerotic gothic cautionary tale of vampiric social relations and visceral, intensive emotions, then Scammer acts as its vengeful sister piece. When reading Calloway’s descriptions of the events that transpired leading up to 2019, one cannot shake the feeling that she is still absolutely seething with rage.

And rage is readable. To a certain extent. But not when you’re body shaming your ex-best-friend. “Since NYU, she’s gotten an adorable pot belly and chopped off all her hair into a pixie cut,” apparently – and unnecessarily.

One extract makes clear that laying out your most unpleasant thoughts in lines of text can go too far. “As Natalie described her topless and abused body, I could feel myself getting wet” is the most disgusting and trite line of the entire novel, a perfect example of callous sensationalism mistaken for self-consciousness. It makes sense that Calloway dedicates her book to Lena Dunham, whose own memoir strived towards raw introspection and authenticity so much so that she forgot that it’s not particularly relatable to admit to molesting your younger sister.

“Caroline writes for women whipping round the corner of a spiral at speed”

The fact that Caroline realises this is disgusting isn’t enough to justify its inclusion. In fact, her meta-commentary (and performative self awareness) might just make it worse.”I also remember feeling something so fucked up I need you to brace yourself before I tell you what comes next,” she writes. She breaks the literary fourth wall throughout: “Worst book ever! Such bad writing! I know!”.


Mountain View

The curious case of Caroline Calloway

Calloway’s prose is at its best when she stops writing what she thinks Caroline Calloway would write, and rather lets the reader engage with the narrative without her constant interjections. She doesn’t do this enough, leading the reader to feel patronised by her constant hand-holding. It feels like she’s saying: Look how good of a writer I am! Look at this metaphor I constructed! “I reached down and picked up a wriggling maggot, alive just like my father was not,” she writes. We didn’t need the second clause.

“I write for the girls who want fun above all else, precisely because when they finally get it they no longer feel it. I write for the girl I once was,” Caroline tells us in Scammer. It makes sense. If we had read the book when we were still 16 and mentally ill – but simultaneously ignoring and romanticising that fact – it might have spoken to us more. That isn’t a bad thing. Caroline writes for women whipping round the corner of a spiral at speed, hands off the wheel, foot on the pedal. If you’ve been that woman, or more likely, that girl, there’s a level of sympathy the novel can’t help but elicit. Even if you’re disgusted by that fact.

The novel – for both its faults and its saving graces – is quintessentially Caroline. And amongst the venn diagram-cum-circle of Caroline Calloway obsessives and Urban Outfitters shoppers, it’ll be a hit, and maybe line their shelves. The messy millennial white woman is having a moment. Basically, if you watch Fleabag and think you’re unique for seeing yourself in the protagonist, and have run out of the Red Scare backlog to listen to, then you’ve found your summer read.

Reading Scammer is like watching a car crash, but with more hyphenated adjectives. You just can’t stop turning the page, yet somehow the tragedy at its heart hits you only fleetingly. You’re not quite sure why.