By Diana Reid
Reviewed by Michelle Roylance
“It’s fucked,” I said. “Like if you don’t think about it too much then it’s so fun. All the parties and being surrounded by friends all the time. But that’s the problem, right?” – pg 48.
Love & Virtue encompasses everything about university that is and is not acknowledged; in truth it is highly relevant, featuring the same characters, conversations and challenges that are the common practice at any institution of higher education — If nothing else an Australian university reader will be able to appreciate Reid’s ability to put to paper so many relatable instances and feelings— but Reid also addresses those things that are whispered and too easily swept under the rug.
I will admit I was mildly concerned that I would not be able to finish this book. After a confronting and hauntingly beautiful prologue that did well to build up my intrigue, the first two chapters fell a little flat with me, being a touch slow and very dialogue heavy. However, rather than setting the tone for this piece, it soon becomes clear that Reid is spinning a fuller web than other authors in this genre might hope to attempt, and that this book is tactfully layered; everything has its purpose; every line, every conversation all builds towards the underlying messages and themes of the book, and it did not take long for me to come to love Reid’s writing style; simple but hypnotic.
As someone who identifies as female, this book was particularly resonating. Topics of consent and rape, privilege, grooming, and trauma, particularly from the lens of the main character were delivered in a refreshing way. There were certainly scenes that made me feel truly uncomfortable and a lot can be said of an author who can do that while also not making you want to throw the book across the room in disgust. Reid conveys the complexity of humanity and human relations, and subtly shows that nothing is black and white by producing scenarios open to controversial discussion.
The naivety of the main character, Michaela, as she comes to understand university life, sex and relationships is cleverly done and highly topical, serving not just as a defining feature of the character but an educative tool for the reader, especially those ignorant of, or consciously ignoring, current university climates.
Eve approached me. “If you were too drunk to remember it, you were definitely too drunk to consent.” – pg 121.
The character of Eve, is perhaps one a reader might recognise a little too well; loud, smart, commanding, seemingly all-knowing, woke; she is the flame to which all the moths gather, and simultaneously she is annoying, entitled and sickening. All throughout the course of this book you can see her trying to break into the main role, and eventually she does, to an extent, manage to steal Michaela’s voice. As much as I love to hate her though, she is the lynchpin of this story, especially as a contrast to Michaela and with her judgements of the university culture; she constantly allows the reader to question how much of our thoughts and actions are our own and how much they are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with.
It is hard to find other books to compare this too, as Reid has abandoned the overdone archetypes of American frats, and weak attempts at feminist YA, and delivered us something a little more real, and a little closer to home in a way that doesn’t make fun of popular Aussie tropes. More mature than John Green, but perhaps more relatable/realistic then Rebecca James; Love & Virtue is a must for any university student and everybody else; because beneath all the layers of this finely spun story, at the heart of these moral debate and controversy there is really only one question to be answered: are you a good person, or do you just look like one?