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.
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.