I first heard about this book when it was mentioned on The High Low, the podcast presented by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. The episode in question discussed the ghost writing scandal of influencer Caroline Calloway. If you have no idea who she is, that’s okay, neither did I. Apparently she is a much followed Instagramer that, earlier this year, was exposed to be a fraud by her caption co-writer. The debate they were having was a provocative critique on the complexities of “truth” saying. My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams – not unlike this other expose – is an autobiographical account of the rise and demise of the fake heiress Anna Delvey. If you have ever wondered how con-artists are cultivated in today’s society and how anyone could possibly get caught up in their misadventures, then this could be the right book for you.
The book opens with a trip to Morocco. Rachel is told by Anna that this going to be an all-expenses paid trip. Of course, what she doesn’t know, however, is that it’s going to be a $70,000 trip paid by her (Rachel). As it so often is, retrieving this money back off Anna becomes a logistical nightmare and, as such, Rachel is facing financial ruin. Here, we are brought to the beginning; how her friendship with Anna came to fruition and how she got embroiled with the lavish lifestyle that Anna led. After all, she stayed in all the most expensive hotels, she dined at the most acclaimed restaurants and she was, above all else, generous with her charm and “money”. Anna – like all great con-artists – had a way of manipulating people to do what she wanted. This is despite the fact no one really knew who she was…except that she was impossibly rich due to a family fortune (impossible being the operative word). Little did they know that it was all smoke and mirrors. She was – as Rachel puts it – the Magician of Manhattan.
To be specific, there were three reasons that I enjoyed this book. a) It was a quick read; b) I had it with me on a train journey with no data and c) this con artist operated in an intriguing way. In this case, I think that Anna targeted DeLoache because – like many young women – she was incredibly insecure. As with all sociopaths, Anna mentally assessed the socialites in DeLoache’s orbit and wittingly picked her out of the lineup. While, there is the temptation to ridicule DeLoache’s gullibility. Anyone can fall prey to a con or a scam – especially, if it is carried out skilfully enough. The truth is, I totally got why Rachel was deceived. I think in some weird way, Anna had actually convinced herself that she was a millionaire. She was the life and soul of the party, and who hasn’t – at some point – wanted to associate with that person? They are the reminder that life is more than paying bills and making money, especially when they are the ones splashing the cash. It is Rachel’s willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt, however, that was her downfall. If I have learnt anything from this book, it’s that it’s okay to say no. No, I will not pay your $70,000 hotel tab.
Though this book was a great length for a train journey. I did get the feeling that this book could have been condensed into a 100 page novella…or a one page article. In fact, unbeknownst to me, this book originated from a one page article on Vanity Fair. Although DeLoache is a competent writer, the book feels like it meanders at a slow pace due to a copious amount of filler. Besides the introduction of Anna to her life, DeLoache’s life is, well, unexciting. This would be acceptable were it not for the purpose of the title – exposing a fraudster. While Rachel’s humble life illustrates why she fell victim to Anna’s charms, it also highlights the skeptical ethics of her truth. Some could argue, her willingness to accept an all-expenses trip to Morocco without much hesitation suggests some degree of exploitation. Similarly, her ability to sub someone $70,000 does rather stink of privilege. Of course, whilst I congratulate the successes of other women and appreciate that DeLoache has a different life experience, I think that her ‘woe is me’ money-making rhetoric feels a little unsavoury. Did Anna deserve to go to prison? Yes. Did I feel sorry for DeLoache? Yes. Does DeLoache’s truth deserve a book deal, a netflix series and a Vanity Fair feature?….possibly not…but fair play. In my opinion, Anna was only as selfish and superficial as the people around her.
Though an interesting read, this title was not what I initially expected. I came to this book expecting a real-life Gossip Girl scandal and what I got was a fable about modern vanity. All in all, I would say that DeLoache is the real magician of manhattan…
…successfully turning near bankruptcy into a lucrative business.