All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Love & Virtue by Diana Reid

on October 20, 2021

Love & Virtue
Diana Reid
Ultimo Press
2021, 265p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Feminism, power and sex play out through the eyes of young Australian uni students in a contemporary narrative that is fiercely authentic.

Whenever I say I was at university with Eve, people ask me what she was like, sceptical perhaps that she could have always been as whole and self-assured as she now appears. To which I say something like: ‘People are infinitely complex.’ But I say it in such a way—so pregnant with misanthropy—that it’s obvious I hate her.

​Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different; one assured and popular – the other uncertain and eager-to-please. But something happens one night in O-week – a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power.

Initially bonded by their wit and sharp eye for the colleges’ mix of material wealth and moral poverty, Michaela and Eve soon discover how fragile friendship is, and how capable of betrayal they both are.

Written with a strikingly contemporary voice that is both wickedly clever and incisive, issues of consent, class and institutional privilege, and feminism become provocations for enduring philosophical questions we face today.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a book as much on social media, as I did this one. I’d never heard of it until about a week before it was published and then all of sudden, it was pretty much everywhere on my instagram. And I guess it’s a testament to that ploy that I bought it and read it only 2 days after it came out.

When I was 19, I moved from my regional town to somewhere in Sydney, for University. So obviously, I lived on campus in a residential dorm, which housed 48 students – 16 to a floor, 3 floors. It was separated from the rest of the residential dorms by a stretch of grass about the size of a football field, which led to a bit of a disconnect between people in my dorm and the students in the rest of the dorms, which formed a quadrangle. It meant that we were often kind of looked down upon by the other dorms (we were the only dorms that included fridges in the rooms, which is why I chose it) but also that we all formed quite a tight bond.

It’s been 20 years since I moved into that residential college but this book took me straight back there like it was yesterday. Like the main character Michaela, I came from outside of Sydney and was surprised by how many people were from Sydney that had moved into the residential college. And many of them had gone to private schools (SHORE, Grammar, Wenona to name just a few I remember). It also had a large number of students who’d gone to boarding schools and were now getting Agricultural degrees before returning to run family farms and the like. It was for me, like stepping into a different world. And that’s before you tackle some of the problematic elements of living on campus.

And that’s what this book does – holds up some of those to the light and examines them through female eyes. I think everyone who has lived on campus, probably has a story where they feared for their safety, where they maybe drank too much and aren’t sure what happened, where they went along with something they perhaps weren’t 100% into, just because. It’s not uncommon and this book reminded me of a lot of my experiences – the good and the bad, with living on campus at a university. Because it’s not all bad. For the most part, everyone is living away from home for the first time, you’re experiencing a taste of freedom, of making your own decisions and choosing your own fates. You make incredibly close friends because you live with these people 24/7. It can be enormous amounts of fun. But it also can be scary, alienating, daunting and in some cases, downright dangerous. My residential hall ended up hiring a security guard to patrol at night and escort us to things like the library or IT building (which was all the way across campus, a 10-15m walk) after a girl was attacked walking back late at night and there were several other attempts. This was in the era before high speed internet in dorm rooms and smart phones, so to use the internet or for many people even a computer or printer, you had to go to the IT building.

For me, so much of this was reminiscent of my own experience at university in many ways even as it was exploring things in a way that I felt would never have been explored during my time and at my own place of residence. It didn’t mean that they weren’t thought about sometimes but this book takes those issues of consent, of privilege, of power, of wealth, of entitlement, and lays them all bare. And it’s more than just that, it’s also an exploration of a charismatic but also toxic friendship at a place of higher learning where everyone is finding their way and just trying to establish themselves. In year 12, you’re a big fish – at university you’re basically a nobody. You can walk into a lecture theatre filled with 2-300 people, all of whom you feel are probably much cleverer than you. It’s possible to feel like a fraud, an imposter. There’s a great showcase in the cast of minor characters here (that person that always, always asks a long, boring question that isn’t really a question but just an erudite sentence proclaiming their own intelligence and superiority) and point me to someone who didn’t share a dorm with a “Wait. What?” girl.

I think this book would really resonate with a lot of people – anyone who lived on campus or went to university mixers, anyone who has experienced the divide between private school and not, anyone who has felt there was an incident in their lives of blurred consent or worse. Anyone who came up against college bureaucracy or an institution’s desire to protect itself. Anyone who discovered that women could be poisonous toward other women in ways they hadn’t encountered or expected before. I felt like some of the philosophy went over my head but I never took a class in it, even at first year level but it was somewhat interesting to read some of the arguments. The social commentary was excellent however and so was the characterisation. I really feel like this is a very powerful and well written story from an author that is going to be one to watch.

8/10

Book #178 of 2021

This is book #77 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021


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