Love & Virtue | Diana Reid #AWWfiction

In a basement bar on a university campus, a boy and a girl hold each other, their limbs loose with alcohol.

First, an apology for being pretty absent in blogger land lately. I’m keeping up with AusReadingMonth posts (just) and that’s about it. Post scheduling errors, computer updates that end up requiring some IT input and major blackouts have all added up to a week of maintenance rather than productivity. A wedding anniversary, our first IRL book group since June, some minor medical tests and a weekend away have added to my sense of being time poor at the moment. Time poor as far as reading and blogging goes; time rich in regard to family and friend connections.

I do find it interesting to observe myself (in a Buddhist meditative kind of way) at the moment, to see how much effort and energy it is taking this particular introvert to get back into the swing of things after lockdown. Brief bursts of stimulation are followed by exhaustion and a desperate need to be home again.

All of which, is my long way of saying that I am thankful that have about five AusReadingMonth posts almost ready to post, and another few books half read that should see me through to the end of November. I am extremely grateful for all of YOUR comments and support, and I hope to be more active again soon.

In the meantime, here’s a review for AusReadingMonth 2021 I prepared earlier!

There has been quite a bit hype around Love & Virtue, at least in Sydney book seller circles. Diana Reid is a debut writer, discovered and nurtured by the shiny, new independent Sydney-based publishing house, Ultimo Press. When Reid’s 2020 anticipated launch into Sydney’s theatre world with her co-written show, 1984! The Musical!, was derailed thanks to Covid-19, she decided to write a book instead. As you do.

I had the honour of sitting in on Reid’s book launch to book sellers via Zoom back in September and since then, I have met her in person, in store. She is delightful, articulate and full of enthusiasm.

She claims four main influences for her novel – Sally Rooney (as you would expect), Donna Tartt (as you would also expect), Brideshead Revisited and Norwegian Wood by Murakami. Love & Virtue is a campus novel about sex, power and consent. Through her two protagonists, Michaela and Eve, she explores two different approaches to morality. One is about virtue or the art of being a good person, the other is more focused on outcomes, or doing what you have to do to get the ‘right’ result.

It’s an easy, quick read, but layered with oodles of moral grey areas and nuanced, contemporary issues. It is obvious that for Reid, consent matters – the consent to tell your own story in your own way and to be able to represent yourself as an autonomous being. She shows how difficult and complex this can actually be within the confines of friendships, both formative and toxic, and in the search for love. Reid does not shy away from contradictory behaviours or the realities of modern life as seen through the eyes of young adults. Love & Virtue would make for interesting book group fodder.

Part of the pleasure to be found in this novel, is the poking fun at Sydney private school culture and the ‘post-ironic‘ conversations our clever young people engage in about their white privilege. However, as a more mature reader, it is also the part that gets rather tiresome by the end.

I suspect, to really get the most out of a campus novel, campus life is something that should still be a part of your world, or very close to it. I was disconcerted to observe that campus life, especially that overwhelming first week and first semester, sounds like it hasn’t changed at all in thirty years, except for Instagram!

Those early days at Fairfax exhausted me. Sleeping and waking in that room, with its paper-thin mattress and plastic orange curtains. I heard my thoughts echo and expand, and watched the surfaces around me fade to unreality. The snatches of conversations, like foul-tasting shots, accumulated, until I awoke each morning with a throbbing head and tender stomach, unable to say whether I’d found a single person I could really talk to.

The people – Eve, Emily, Claudia, Portia, Sackers, Nick, Balthazar – paraded through my mind like I was flicking through their Instagram Stories. The conversations we shared had no significance or resonance. We all overlapped without touching.

During my own college days, I discovered and devoured Erich Segal’s story called The Class (1985), about the Harvard class of 1958. Like Brideshead Revisited, it began at university but then moved on to their adult lives and careers. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t find this story (or The Secret History) as satisfying in the end. There wasn’t the life after university to put the whole campus experience into context.

What Love & Virtue does achieve is to capture that very intense time in a young person’s life, as they leave home for the first time and negotiate their way through emerging adult relationships, into a perfect time capsule. That time when everything feels so important, so pertinent and so meaningful. And so confusing. Reid nails it.

Some of the younger folk I know did not feel that Michaela and Eve’s campus experiences were representative. But I don’t believe that Reid was writing a book to encapsulate everyone’s university experience. Her characters were very much a part of the privileged private school culture they were dissing on. They were deeply enmeshed in the establishment but trying to be ‘woke’.

Every university has their pretty young things, acting cool and clever. Where popularity and pep seems to come naturally thanks to mummy and daddy’s money. Then there’s the rest of us watching on in mock horror, with perhaps just a tiny bit of envy.

Epigraphs:

There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside of it.

George Eliot | Middlemarch

Many wish not so much to be, as to seem to be, endowed with real virtue.

Marcus Tullius Cicero | Laelius de Amicitia
Title: Love & Virtue
Author: Diana Reid
ISBN: 9781761150111
Imprint: Ultimo Press
Published: 1st October 2021
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 310
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin.

15 thoughts on “Love & Virtue | Diana Reid #AWWfiction

  1. First, I am reminded that in Rooney’s Beautiful World consent is really important – in the sex scenes there is a lot of asking “Is this ok?” before they move on (Yes, I was surprised). I read Brideshead at the end of my first (and only) year at the very upper class Trinity College, Melb Uni and it made a huge impression. Sadly, I haven’t yet read Norwegian Wood, but you’ve gotta admire Reid’s choice of influences. That said, I’d rather she hadn’t said that, so I could read it standing on its own two feet, or falling over as the case may be.
    I’ve wondered a couple of times how you are doing now there is a press of actual customers back in the book shop. I get worried enough just talking one on one with interstate truck drivers (who invariably do no bother with masks). Four weeks till I’m eligible for jab #3!

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    1. Thanks Bill.
      It has been a trying month and I did find the first week particularly confronting. I struggle when people don’t wear masks when talking to others in shops. It’s such a simple, easy, courteous thing to do to prevent the spread, I just don’t understand why so many people refuse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be able to go walking again outside without a mask, but when I order my takeaway coffee or pay for lunch, I make sure I put my mask on again.
      I also haven’t had a break from work since Easter. We would normally have a week or so off in August, but we missed out this year and I’m now rather tired and worn out.

      I haven’t read Norwegian Wood either, but Brideshead is one of my all-time favourites and long overdue for a reread.

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  2. I nearly bought this this week (while in Wagga) for Daughter Gums’s for Christmas. I still might. Your description “It’s an easy, quick read, but layered with oodles of moral grey areas and nuanced, contemporary issues” sounds right up her alley.

    I do hope you have a break soon Brona. I know said Daughter Gums is also pretty exhausted. She works incredibly long hours but then she takes herself off somewhere and of course she hasn’t been able to do that. Our little three night trip to Wagga and Young were nice, but we need a bit more too!

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    1. We have a break planned in the NY…I’m counting down the days!
      But between now and then, we have to survive Christmas at work! The next five weeks are our busiest of the whole year (but also fun in a frenetic kind of way.)

      I was very envious of your recent road trip pics. We enjoyed a lovely weekend in the mountains, but we both had the urge to just keep on driving!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this might be a bit “young” for me (milleniallish?) – I have not done too well with most of the young people’s books I’ve read recently! Too creaky and set in my ways now? I do hope not! And I’m sorry about the difficulties described above, I’m getting stressed about the lack of mask wearing and this last week Mr Liz and I have had a cold, we thought we’d been so careful but of course we’re all about the Covid aerosols at the moment and perhaps forgot a little about the touch-driven transmission of colds (I reckon he got it off a delivery driver). Anyway, I’ve been enjoying seeing the AusReading Month posts come along and I hope that’s cheered you, too.

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    1. Mr Books heard an interview on the radio this morning that he alerted me to, about the malaise many people are feeling coming out of lockdown. I’m certainly struggling to get going again, and it helped to know that what I’m feeling is shared by 1 in 3 others!

      Sorry you’ve caught a cold. Thanks to masks and lockdowns and social distancing I’ve gone through two winters now without catching one single cold or sore throat…the first time in my adult life I’ve gone that long without being sick!

      Hope you both feel better soon.

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  4. I can relate to the exhaustion, and I’m not even at work. Just being back at f2f classes in Latin and French, and that’s it for the week, I’m tired out.
    People don’t often realise that while it’s effortless for extraverts, introverts find constant contact with other people exhausting. I look back on my days of teaching and I wonder how I ever did it.

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    1. I wonder the same thing about my teaching days, especially whenever I catch up with one of my former colleagues who are still in the thick of it. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be teaching through these Covid times.

      Although, even Mr Books, who is pretty much half and half as far as extroversion/introversion goes, is struggling with tiredness and motivation post-lockdown too. Hopefully a NY holiday will fix us both up 🙂

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  5. It is weird coming out of lockdown, making plans or just going somewhere doesn’t seem to be in my head anymore! I’m wondering if this might be a good read for my 25 year old daughter or niece who is 21, I think you’re right about the move into adulthood being needed for older readers. I still have to read Norwegian Wood and Brideshead, but I fully appreciate her inspiration!

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    1. Your daughter and niece would be the target demographic for this book, as long as they do not mind reading a few drinking, drug and sex scenes.

      And your comment about not making plans coming out of lockdown has just nailed my issue completely. Normally on my day off work, or on the weekends, I would be making plans to go to art galleries, the movies, second hand bookshops around the city, ferry rides to the other side of the harbour just for the fun of it. I haven’t done any of that yet. I thought I might go to the art gallery of NSW today since I haven’t been since our autumn (which is a long time for me to go to an exhibition of some kind, somewhere!) But I woke up and thought ‘nah’ – I’d rather just go for a walk locally, grab a coffee and come home to read and blog.

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