Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein

Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is the author of such bestselling titles as No Logo, The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything. She’s a social activist, who has worked on Bernie Sanders campaigns and writes about globalisation.

Naomi Wolf is the author of books such as The Beauty Myth, Fire With Fire and The End of America. She made her name as a feminist writer.

Both are North American, white, Jewish women. They even have husbands who share the same name. But the similarities stop pretty soon afterwards. Because Wolf has gone down the rabbit hole at this point, and is an arch conspiracy theorist. This book considers the person that Klein sees as Other Naomi, or her doppelganger.

She relates a story from around the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests. She was in a bathroom stall and overhears another women asking her friend if she’s seen what Naomi Klein has said about the protests. This was not Klein saying these things, but Wolf. Klein is aware that mistakes are made, but in the eyes of the vaguely disinterested average person, perhaps these two women are seen as the same person?

This is a fascinating book – part memoir, part investigation and part manifesto. Klein has a lot to get off her chest, and of course Covid-19 brought out the worst in Wolf, as she became an anti-vaxxer and began drifting away from her feminist roots ever more towards the outer reaches of the far right, teaming up with the likes of Steve Bannon, Trump’s one time chief strategist and now a fixture in the far right with influential podcasts and YouTube videos espousing those views.

The book identifies a pivot point in Wolf as being her 2019 appearance on Radio 3’s Free Thinking with Matthew Sweet. She was promoting her then new book Outrages which explored the criminalisation of same-sex relationships in the Victorian era. But she had made claims of “several dozen executions” of men for being homosexual. Sweet challenged her on this, and it became apparent that she had taken “death recorded” to mean “execution” when in fact the judge had pardoned the men. Furthermore, some of the cases were those of child abuse and not homosexuality.

The mistakes saw her book being withdrawn by the publishers, and undoubtedly was a professional embarrassment. And as time has gone on, her claims have become extreme, and largely come without any attempt at supplying evidence. Klein talks in the books about diagonalism – the way that those who would once have been seen as belonging to the social left, suddenly veering wildly over towards the far right.

Klein reports from canvassing prospective voters in Canada, where her husband stood for public office, and finding prospective voter who had in one fell swoop shifted from being a supporter of centre-left New Democratic Party, to the far-right People’s Party. The more mainstream Liberal and Conservative parties were skipped over entirely.

The book also examines doppelgangers in film and literature, and references among them what I think is quite an important addition to the canon in China Miéville’s The City and the City, where two cities co-exist in the same space without one even recognising the other.

My only small criticism of the book is that it does lack a little structure. You feel that Klein really wanted to get all this out, and probably quite quickly. She writes about how her family were uncertain about her behaviour as she found herself listening to extremist podcasts to try to understand how the message was being disseminated and how people were acting on it. And it’s really interesting to see how some of these characters have to side-step issues that don’t quite gel across the spectrum. Some might be QAnon believers, but not all – so don’t talk about it. Klein notes that Wolf was once an important writer about Israel and Palestine, but today avoids the topic because her (past?) views no longer adhere to those of some of her supporters today.

A fascinating, thoughtful, and frankly, worrying book.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.