Book review: The Sharing Economy by Sophie Berrebi

Gabrielle Bloom leads an appealing life in Amsterdam. She is affluent and cultured, moving between her job liaising with artists at a foundation, to dinner parties with her international community of friends, to meetings at beautiful cafes and restaurants across the city. She and her husband Anton have a happy marriage, a young son and a comfortable home.

They also have an open relationship and Gabrielle takes the opportunity offered by a new dating app to have a number of sexual encounters.

The Sharing Economy avoids the obvious tropes – stories of danger, thwarted passion and jealousy – and takes Gabrielle on a more nuanced journey from casual hook-ups to emotionally entangled relationships.

Alongside Gabrielle’s sexual experiences are her musings on the dating app as a medium and how it changes behaviour. There’s a lovely scene where Gabrielle is travelling on a tram, enclosed by the rain. At each stop she looks up, sees the faces of the people who board, has a momentary impression of who they are and looks away. Meanwhile she is doing the same on the screen – as she swipes right or left on the dating app based on a fleeting glimpse.

These thoughts are counterpointed with her work on an exhibition which interrogates the role of technology and its relationship to the body. This provides an opportunity for some exposition which I felt was not needed (and the arguments are quite well worn, given the book is set in 2014).

The Sharing Economy is beautifully written, sensual and sensuous, interweaving Gabrielle’s intense sexual experiences with her painterly observations of a body, a room, a view of the canal. I love some of the small details — her cooking, the nuggets of history of the city, the way she and Anton cycle home together from a dinner party. Her lifestyle is very aspirational if you’re into arts and culture (though I’m at the stage of life where  all those hook-ups sound more exhausting than erotic).

I was intrigued by the fact that Gabrielle had never bothered to learn Dutch, despite having a Dutch husband and son, so when she goes to her child’s school she struggles to communicate with the staff. At times her fixation on the app leads her to neglect other key commitments, and she articulates her resentment at being judged as a mother rather than a woman after her son’s birth.

I did wonder at times if everyone was a bit too reasonable. Anton adopts an almost godlike position – not only husband but best friend, father and psychotherapist, as he observes her behaviour, available but never interfering. You could argue that this benevolent oversight becomes a form of control.

There are no dramatic plot twists in The Sharing Economy but there is a sense that something is gained and learnt. It highlights how it’s not just relationships that are unique, but the self we become when we are with another person. It tells a story of how casual sex can be profound and revealing and complicated, as well as hot.

I received a copy of The Sharing Economy from the publisher via NetGalley.
View The Sharing Economy on Goodreads

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